BY T. R. MADER
Mountain lions are highly effici-ent predators, big solitary cats with a wide range throughout the West, and populations are increas-ing. An individual cat’s range depends on food availability, and can vary from 10 to 370 square miles.
Males weigh up to 165 pounds and grow to more than eight feet in length. Females weigh about 100 pounds, and reproduce at about two and a half years of age. Generally they have two or three kittens. A mountain lion’s life span is estimated at 12 years in the wild, though cats live up to 25 years in captivity.
Mountain lions tend to live in remote country and are seldom seen by humans. They hunt their prey by stealth and ambush, killing usually with a powerful bite at the base of the skull, breaking the neck. The mountain lion, like a domestic cat with a mouse, will kill for the sake of killing, and may kill many more animals in an attack than it can consume. Lions have killed as many as twenty sheep at one time, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
A mountain lion’s diet consists of deer, elk, porcupines, small mammals, livestock, and pets, but lions prefer deer. Experts say a lion kills one deer every 9 to 14 days, but in some areas, it has been found that a lion kills as many as two deer per week. In Montana, biologists find that wolves often chase a lion off its kill and consume it, so that the lion is forced to take more prey.
Of the few documented mountain lion attacks on humans, most victims were small children. Of the 50 recorded attacks in the past 100 years, most occurred in the last 20 years. All hiking fatalities in California have occurred to single hikers. Since 1991, 10 people have been killed by lions in North America.
T.R. Mader is Research Director of Abundant Wildlife Society of North America.
Note: In 1989 near Evaro, Mont., a boy, age 5, was killed by two or three lions, possibly a female with kittens, while riding his tricycle in his front yard. The boy was dragged and the body was found hours later.
In 1998, a lion severely attacked a 6-year-old boy in Basin, Montana, after he turned and ran at a campground with 50 adults present. The cat then approached two men, one of whom was a Blackfeet tribal officer wearing a sidearm. He fired several shots and wounded the cat. The lion was tracked later that day and then killed.
Also in 1998, a lion attacked a 6-year-old boy hiking with three dozen campers on Marshall Mountain near Missoula. In 1990, another youngster was mauled by a lion in Glacier National Park.