When we think of a big, wild cat, my guess is that exotic animals like lions, tigers, and cheetahs pop up. We normally don’t think of wild cats as being in relatively close proximity to home, and we forget they exist (for better or worse), but we do have big cats in our backyard, mountain lions (also known as pumas or cougars). California is home to several thousand mountain lions (4K-6K), which accounts for 10%-20% of their total population in the US (estimated at 20K-40K).
In fact, nearly half of California is mountain lion territory; you’ll see warning signs about mountain lions on some hiking trails. Though encountering them is rare, it can happen; chances are, one was already nearby (I swear one I encountered one at the Lewis Creek trail). Thankfully, mountain lions tend to avoid confrontations, so long as you try to do so as well. Here are some tips from the National Park Service to remain safe in mountain lion habitat:
- Do not hike alone (safety in numbers)
- Make plenty of noise (so that mountain lions are not surprised)
- Avoid squatting or bending over (doing so makes you not only appear shorter, but also to resemble a four-legged animal; mountain lions don’t have bipeds on their diet!)
- Always keep children close
In case a mountain lion is encountered, NPS provides additional advice, from trying to remain calm and fearless, to fighting the mountain lion (a last resort). This applies to encountering them in any situation, as they occasionally venture into urban areas, even inside buildings or homes (in which case you may also want to call 911 for help).