If you live in mountain lion territory, don’t be surprised if or when you spot a mountain lion nearby.
That’s what members of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are saying after two incidents involving mountain lions invading people’s homes.
The encounters happened miles away from one another and in completely different areas of Northern California. An encounter was recently reported in Pollock Pines, then another was reported less than two weeks later in Pescadero.
While the incidents involved different people and different mountain lions, they both had common denominators: Both incidents occurred in mountain lion habitats and involved outdoor pets. Also, in both incidents, the mountain lions got inside through an open access point.
As uncommon as they may be, even having just one of those elements in play could result in a mountain lion encounter, said CFW spokesman Kyle Orr.
“If [a mountain lion] has easy access and sees prey it has been tracking through an open door or window, it might potentially – as unusual as it is – it may go in there,” Orr said.
Mountain lions, as reclusive and afraid of humans as they may be, are opportunistic hunters. That means if the proverbial fruit is hanging low enough, they won’t hesitate to grab it.
“Them going after a pet, that’s not atypical behavior of a mountain lion – that’s not aggressive behavior toward a human,” Orr said. “When they are, it becomes a public safety issue.”
While it’s impossible to know what the big cats were thinking, Orr said it’s very possible either mountain lion in each reported incident was tracking a pet.
Mountain lion encounters are rare in and of themselves, Orr said, let alone encountering one inside a home. The cats also have a territorial range of roughly 200 square miles. Those two elements combined make tracking down the furry culprits nearly impossible without any hard evidence of an encounter.
Which leads to another important point: Mountain lions are notorious for leaving little evidence of where they’re going, but not necessarily where they’ve been.
There are plenty of mountain lions in both Placer and San Mateo counties, said CFW spokesman Andrew Hughan, where each of the most recent encounters were reported, which is why it’s important for those living those areas to know and understand the habitat and risks.
Here are some important reminders from the CFW:
Attacks on humans are extremely rare. Mountain lions are dangerous, sure, but mainly to deer and their primary sources of food. To people, not so much. If there was a natural urge for mountain lions to attack humans, we’d hear about it every day, Orr said. They avoid us. In fact, the likelihood is a mountain lion knows a human is nearby far more often than the other way around.
Protect your pets. Bring your pets inside at night. Mountain lions primarily hunt at night, and a pet left outside overnight is prime pickings for a hungry cougar. Regularly leaving pet and/or human food outside is also an easy way to encourage mountain lions to linger in your area.
Close all doors and windows in your home if you’re not there or asleep. Don’t want a mountain lion in your home? Make sure to close windows and doors if you live in mountain lion territory.
Stop, stand tall and don’t run. If you encounter a cougar, pick up small children. Don’t run – a cougar’s instinct is to chase. Do not approach the animal, especially if it is near a kill or with its cubs. Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off of the animal or turn your back on it. Do not crouch down or try to hide. If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. You’re trying to convince the mountain lion you are not prey, but a potential danger. If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet.