Cougars–Ghost of the Mountain

With this post begins a series on cougars and cougar tracking.

The first cougar print I ever saw was at a tracking class around Davenport near Santa Cruz CA.  Davenport is an ocean town, backed by rolling hills and wild lands.  After a morning of tracking lessons, the group split up into smaller bands and we walked around the edges of a large field.  In the middle of a dirt two-track road was one cougar print.

cougar track with penny for reference

cougar track with penny for reference

When I lived in Marin County, my neighbors and friends had plenty of cougar sightings.  With a plethora of deer and no hunting, along with a lot of preserved lands up and down the coast, Marin has its share of wildlife, including cougars.  But its still rare to see one.

I lived in a subdivision that abutted a large swath of open space.  Thirty years ago, the early residents had the foresight to purchase the hills behind their new homes to preserve forever.  They gave the management of these lands over to the Marin County Open Space District.  Once on a trail in these hills, you could literally walk to the ocean about twenty miles away through vast expanses of preserved lands and ranches.  From the Golden Gate National Recreation Areas north to Sonoma County, here is where cougars roam.  IMG_3259

Marin County.  Gateway to lots of hiking, Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods.

View looking over the vast protected hillscapes of Marin that stretch all the way to Sonoma County.  This is good deer and cougar country.

Although I walked those hills almost daily, and for years, I never once encountered a lion.  In September, the driest month of the year, the deer would come down from the hills to the perennial stream that ran alongside Lucas Valley Road where I lived.  And the lions follow the deer.  It was at this time that most sightings occurred.  One day a neighbor who lived next to the Open Space area, told me she was washing dishes in the kitchen when she looked out her window and saw a cougar.  Another friend was walking his dog and saw a lion.   Another friend told me her son was hiking on Mt. Tamalpais when he spied a cougar on a rock above him, watching. Sadly, I never had the pleasure of seeing one.

Because of the extraordinary amount of deer in Marin, cougars are living close to people.  California voters outlawed cougar hunting in 1996, yet there has never been one incident in Marin of a cougar attacking a person.  In July of this year a Marin county man was attacked in a remote area of the Sierra foothills by a cougar.  He was alone, in his sleeping bag, awakened by a large paw on the side of his head.  He survived.  This is such a rare incident.  One sound theory to explain this attack is that the man’s snoring sounded like a wounded animal to the cat.   http://animal.discovery.com/mammals/cougar/pictures/cougar-picture.jpg

California does give out kill tags to people who claim livestock loss from cats.  But you have to ask yourself:  other states have a hunt on cougars in order to limit their numbers and protect people.  Yet in a state as big as California, these kinds of attacks are incredibly rare.  From 1890 to the present, only 19 verifiable cougar caused deaths have taken place in all of North America–one of those was in California in 2004, the only death since California’s no hunting law began, with an estimated 4000-6000 cats statewide.

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4 Responses

  1. My saddest view of a mountain lion was the dead one draped over a pick-up parked outside the old library. I abhor trophy hunting, which this certainly was, as folks don’t hunt cougars for their meat. My best view was the one that bounded into my view as I stood in my backyard, and then partially hid behind a large sage brush and stared at me for a time. I enjoyed the post, thanks, Anne.

  2. I lived in Bolinas 1959-60, attended 8th grade at the old Bolinas school. I hiked the hills around there many times, never saw a cougar or their sign. It was a bucolic area back then, Bolinas was just getting it’s ‘artsy’ people and the beats. Mostly farmers and dairy ranchers.
    Cougars are beautiful animals, in my 68 years I’ve seen one, but I’d bet I’ve been seen by many.

  3. I have tracked them here and in CA and still have never seen one. My neighbor, in WY, told me a fine story. She was sitting on her porch one summer and out from the brush onto her lawn came a beautiful cougar. She still talks about how graceful and magnificent that animal was. I’ll be doing a series on cougars and when the snow gets going, hopefully in January, I’ll be doing tracking and blogging about an area I know they like in the winter. Thanks for visiting.

  4. I enjoy reading your blog, Leslie, and looking at the pictures you’ve taken as well. It helps me step out of the world I live in for a moment or two every once in awhile! Keep posting :-)

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