Mountain lions are legally classified as "specially protected species". In July 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lions as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) within a proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) located in Southern California and along the central coast of California. In April 2020, the Commission found that listing of this ESU may be warranted and designated mountain lion within the ESU as a candidate species under CESA.
CDFW is now completing a 12-month status review of mountain lions within the proposed ESU. Upon completion, CDFW will make its recommendation on listing to the Commission. Under CESA, species classified as a candidate species are afforded the same protection as listed species. As a result, mountain lions in this proposed ESU are CESA-protected during the review period.
Elsewhere in California, mountain lion numbers appear to be stable.
Statewide mountain lion population estimates are based on the best scientific knowledge, research, and methods available. The exact number is unknown. Mountain lion studies over the last 40 years have estimated population densities for different habitat types throughout California. These density estimates have varied from zero to 10 lions per 100 square miles, then applied to the total amount of each habitat type available. Previous studies have estimated 2,000-3,000 mountain lions statewide. In a 1996 study, CDFW estimated 4,000-6,000 mountain lions statewide using density estimates from previous studies.
In 2014, the Department began working to update the statewide mountain lion population estimate using more rigorous field-based and data analysis methods. This study effort is anticipated to be completed within the next several years. Estimating population densities of an elusive species, such as the mountain lion, in a state as geographically large and diverse as California is a complex task.
Mountain lions are known to inhabit diverse habitats across most of California. Mountain lions can be found wherever deer are present, since deer are a mountain lion's primary food source in most areas. As such, foothills and mountains are considered prime mountain lion habitat.
Most mountain lion populations are thought to be relatively stable in California. In 2014, the Department began implementing a statewide mountain lion study to determine the status, relative abundance, and population densities across California. Ongoing monitoring of localized trends, data collection and analysis is being conducted statewide to derive a baseline population estimate.
No. The California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117) legally classified mountain lions as a "specially protected mammal". It is unlawful to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or any part or product thereof. This status and other statutes prohibit the Department from developing hunting season or take limits for lions. The act established certain exemptions from that prohibition. Mountain lions may be killed only 1) if a depredation permit is issued to take a specific lion that has killed livestock or pets; 2) to preserve public safety; or 3) to protect listed bighorn sheep.
Mountain lion attacks on humans are uncommon. Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. Since 1890, there have been few verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California, six of them fatal. In most cases, the person was alone when the attack occurred. The last documented human-lion attack occurred June 2020 in San Diego County.
Under the CDFW's Public Safety Wildlife Guidelines, an animal is deemed to be a public safety threat if there is “a likelihood of human injury based on the totality of the circumstances.” Factors that are considered include the lion's behavior and its proximity to schools, playgrounds and other public gathering places. The determination of whether an animal is a public safety threat is made by the CDFW or local law enforcement personnel on the scene. If a wild animal is declared a public safety threat, protecting human health and safety is a priority.
People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion. By deer-proofing the landscape, homeowners can avoid attracting a lion's main food source. Removing dense vegetation from around the home and installing outdoor lighting will make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen. Human-wildlife conflicts with mountain lions have become increasingly common as more people move into mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions primarily eat deer and other wildlife, but if allowed, they will prey on vulnerable pets and livestock. The Department received hundreds of reports annually of mountain lions harming or killing livestock and pets. Many options and resources exist to reduce conflicts with these beautiful wild animals.
- Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house and other structures.
- Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.
- Do not allow pets outside unattended when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.
- Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.
If a mountain lion is deemed a 'No Harm-No Foul" animal and does not pose a threat, Department staff will work to encourage the animal back to its nearest suitable habitat. This may occur by monitoring and/or securing the local area to allow the animal to return on its own, actively hazing the animal to deter it, or conducting a capture to relocate it.
If a mountain lion displays unusually bold, inappropriate or aggressive behavior toward humans, the Department will not relocate the animal because of the risk it may pose to others. If a mountain lion is declared a public safety threat, the Department and local law enforcement work quickly to remove any threat in the most humane manner possible.
If a mountain lion is considered non-releasable (e.g., due to injury, disease, habituation), the Department will work with permitted facilities and agency partners to try and find permanent placement of the animal. Most facilities, including wildlife sanctuaries and zoos, have limited space or resources to accept large wild animals for exhibit.
Mountain lions are typically solitary and elusive. They often co-exist around people, unseen and unheard. Sometimes disease will cause an animal to behave strangely. Some public safety mountain lions have tested positive for feline leukemia or, more rarely, rabies. Often, there is no clear explanation why a mountain lion may abandon its instinctive wariness of humans.
Mountain lions typically pose little threat to humans, and generally avoid any human interaction. A person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion.
Living With Mountain Lions
- Deer-proof your property to avoid attracting a lion's main food source.
- Remove dense vegetation from around the home to reduce hiding spaces.
- Install outdoor lighting to make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen.
- Secure livestock and outdoor large pets in sturdy, covered shelters at night.
- Always remember - Mountain lions are wild animals and their behavior may be unpredictable (like any wildlife).
Mountain Lion Encounters
- Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. Do not hike, bike, or jog at dawn, dusk, or at night.
- Stay alert on trails. Keep a close watch on small children and off leash pets.
- Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
- DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Do not turn your back. Face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger.
- Do not crouch down or bend over.
Visit the Department's Human-Wildlife Conflict Program page for more information.