Mountain Lions in California

adult mountain lion profile
mountain lion in snow
mountain lion resting
mountain lion walking
lion kitten on snow


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is tasked with ensuring viable mountain lion (Puma concolor) populations persist throughout the state where suitable habitat and other environmental conditions allow. Mountain lions are classified as a 'specially protected' species in California following the passage of the The California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117).

Statewide mountain lion population estimates are considered stable based on the best scientific knowledge, research, and methods available. CDFW is currently finalizing a statewide population abundance and density estimate for mountain lions using information gained from rigorous statistical analyses using non-invasive scat survey and satellite-collar data. Estimating population densities an elusive species in a state as geographically large and diverse as California is a complex task. Historic studies over the last 40 years have estimated population densities for different habitat types throughout California.

Increased sightings and reports of mountain lions are likely due to the increased presence of home security cameras (e.g., ring doorbells), social media, and personal trail cameras often used for hunting, wildlife photography and leisure purposes.

General Biology

Mountain lions are the second largest felid in North America with the largest geographic range of carnivores in the western hemisphere that stretches from southern Chile to the Canadian Yukon. The mountain lion is known by over 40 different common names including but not limited to puma, cougar, panther, red tiger, catamount, and screamer. Mountain lions inhabit diverse habitat types across California including temperate redwood forest, coniferous / deciduous forest, coastal chaparral, foothills and mountains. They can be found wherever native or introduced ungulates such as mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, or feral hogs are present.


  • Body Length: 37.5-55 in (female) 42.1-66.1 in (male)
  • Tail Length: 22.4-36.2 in
  • Weight: 50.7-110 lb (female), 85-170 lb (male)


In California, mountain lions are a specially protected non-game species; following the passage of the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117). Mountain lions have not been hunted in California since 1972. The Department strives to conserve mountain lion populations for their ecological and intrinsic values. We have been studying mountain lion populations in the state for more than 40 years and formally established the mountain lion conservation program in 2015 to coordinate statewide mountain lion research and population monitoring, conflict mitigation, and to inform habitat conservation and protection.


The mountain lion conservation program is based in the wildlife health laboratory in the Wildlife Branch of CDFW.

  1. Jason Lombardi, Ph.D. - Statewide Large Carnivore Research Coordinator (Lead Mountain Lion Scientist)
Individuals with questions regarding the mountain lion conservation program, future research ideas, sightings, or general questions please contact us

California Endangered Species Act Petition

Over the last decade, research has indicated there is a lack of genetic diversity in specific parts of California (i.e., southern California and central coast; Ernest et al. 2014, Gustafson et al. 2019) as a result of human population growth and barriers that restrict connectivity with other mountain lion populations. The Department is pursuing many actions toward managing mountain lions, including coordination with federal, state, and non- governmental organization partners on projects to improve habitat connectivity, and to increase public outreach and education.

In July 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lions as a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) within a proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) located in Southern California and 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. As a result, CDFW is now completing a status review of mountain lions within the proposed ESU. At the end of the review, 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.

Statewide Scientific Research

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) established a mountain lion conservation program in 2015 to coordinate statewide mountain lion research and population monitoring, and to inform habitat conservation and protection. The department conducts these statewide projects independently and in collaboration with external collaborators from 8 different academic institutions, 3 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 5 governmental agencies. Further, these collaborations have been advised by the California Mountain Lion Scientific Working Group, which is a consortium of the leading mountain lion researchers in the state.

Over the last 8 years there has been a focus to address the following questions 1) develop habitat use models of pumas statewide and in all the eco-regions of the state where mountain lions exist; 2) understand puma demographics and develop tools for estimating mountain lion abundance/density statewide and in the ecoregions long-term; 3) quantify genetic variation and gene flow between mountain lion populations in various regions of the state; 4) identify barriers to and travel corridors that may facilitate mountain lion gene flow between various populations; 5) assess prevalence of disease and other factors that might limit health of individuals and populations of mountain lions; 6) understand ecological relationships between mountain lions and co-occurring prey and predators; 7) research trends in and methods for mitigating mountain lion-human conflict, and 8) addressing human dimension issues related to mountain lions.

Statewide research efforts are lead and coordinated by Statewide Large Carnivore Research Coordinator Dr. Jason Lombardi.

Data collected in statewide or regional mountain lion studies are often published in peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly journals. These efforts help guide conservation and management of mountain lions in California and across their geographic range. For more information and list of publications, please check out Mountain Lion Research Publications

External Mountain Lion Scientific Collection Permitted Research

CDFW is responsible for permitting and overseeing mountain lion research in the State.

Qualified individuals, educational institutions, governmental agencies or nongovernmental organizations may apply for a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) to conduct research. The Department may authorize permitholders to pursue, capture, temporarily possess, temporarily injure, mark, attach to or surgically implant monitoring or recognition devices in, provide veterinary care to, and transport, mountain lions, or any part or product of a mountain lion.

Questions regarding the type of research being conducted as to whether a SCP permit is needed are encouraged to contact Dr. Lombardi. 

Approved Research Permitted Studies

There are currently seven active permitted research studies on mountain lions occurring throughout California examining topics including habitat connectivity, road ecology, genomics, energetics, response to human development, genetics and dietary analyses, and more.

More detailed information on each of these projects can be found here: Details of Current Permitted Studies

Prospective Researchers

Prospective researchers must submit a research proposal using a clear, bulleted format to facilitate the expeditious processing of the SCP request. Learn more!

  1. Executive Summary;
  2. Need Statement;
  3. Goals;
  4. Time-oriented Objectives;
  5. Study Area (include a map if applicable)
  6. Methods;
  7. List of Personnel that details roles and responsibilities; and
  8. Statement of how your project complies with the following criteria:
  • Contribute to the knowledge of natural wildlife ecosystems.
  • Minimize disruptions in the lives and movements of mountain lions and other wildlife, as well as impacts to mountain lion or other wildlife habitat, while maintaining the permitholder's research objectives.
  • Directly or indirectly support the sustainability and survival of mountain lion populations and healthy ecosystems.
  • Prevent the permanent injury or killing of any mountain lion.

If portions of any proposal contains intellectually confidential information (e.g., novel capture methodology), such information should be included in the appendix under a confidentiality statement heading that shall read: "The following information is a trade secret and should be exempt from public disclosure under the California Public Records Act pursuant to sections 6254(k) and 6276.44 of the Government Code." The proposal must still provide sufficient descriptive information, and simply reference this appendix when and where appropriate.

30-day Public Notices of Authorized Research Permits

The Department shall notify the public of the intent to issue a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) for mountain lion research 30 days prior to permit issuance, pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 4810. As of July 2023, CDFW has 1 pending SCP Permits for mountain lion research. Draft permit copies are available for review upon written request:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Branch – MOUNTAIN LION SCP
1812 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95811


To better inform management of of mountain lion conflict situations, the CDFW Human-Wildlife Conflicts Program and Mountain Lion Conservation Program work together to developed strategies to address the risk of mountain lions on the landscape using diverse tools and the best available science. Our highly-trained scientific and law enforcement staff address all cases of human conflicts with mountain lions. Training is a necessary part of an effective response to reported conflict. Communication, education, and outreach are important to enhancing the public’s understanding of potential conflict, conservation, and safe coexistence. For more information, visit the webpage and Keep Me Wildlife

For Human-Mountain Lion Conflict questions, please contact:

  1. Victoria Monroe - Statewide Human-Wildlife Conflict Coordinator
  2. Ryan Leahy - Statewide Human Wildlife Conflict Specialist


Human-wildlife conflicts are reported in urban and rural communities throughout California. As communities expand into wildland areas, increasingly reported interactions between people and mountain lions has resulted in increased calls for assistance from the public. Human population growth in the urban/wildland interface has manifested in small land parcels, many of which contain pets, small livestock, poultry, or exotic animals. These factors can lead to potential conflict due to increased attractants and competition for resources.

The Department seeks to avoid, where possible, mountain lion mortality resulting from the issuance of depredation permits. Further, staff strive to improve training, communication, transparency, and decision-making as they relate to managing human-wildlife conflicts involving mountain lions. It is recognized that each depredation incident may be unique. Property owners have legitimate concerns regarding mountain lion depredation. The Department understands these concerns, and is responsive to reported depredation pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 4802.

Since 2017, CDFW's approach has been deliberative, starting with a three-step policy implemented in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana Mountains. In February 2020, the policy was expanded to the larger proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) contained in the petition to the Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Currently, staff use a deliberative stepwise process for responding to reported mountain lion incidents statewide.

A primary focus of the stepwise process is to prioritize approaches and actions that are non-lethal in accordance with Fish and Game Code Section 4801.5, which provides that non-lethal measures shall be used when issuing depredation permits unless otherwise stated. Staff will provide property owners technical assistance, including:

  • Educational materials and resources regarding mountain lion behavior;
  • Potential reasonable preventative measures as recommended by the Department;
  • Site-specific options, including logistically and economically feasible measures to reduce the potential for attracting mountain lions;
  • Terms and conditions of a depredation permit, if applicable, and reporting requirements.

During the stepwise process, recommended measures may include, but not limited to: 1) removing the carcass and carcass parts of depredated animals; 2) install/repair/replace exclusion fencing; 3) implement more robust animal husbandry practices; 4) deploy temporary deterrent systems; 5) use livestock protection dogs; 6) hazing (e.g., use of bean bag shots), 7) capture, collar, and release measures to monitor movement and behavior.

Mountain Lion Depredation Statistics

A permittee is required to report take or no take upon expiration or fulfillment of the permit. CDFW maintains table summaries of the annual number of issued mountain lion depredation permits and the resultant take as reported to CDFW.


  • Data may be subject to change as new information becomes available.
  • These data represent the least number of permits issued to take a mountain lion and the least number of mountain lions taken under depredation permits in a given county in a given year. Temporal and/or geographic inconsistencies in reporting may make the data unreliable for identifying trends or making geographical comparisons without the application of a peer-approved scientific model that accounts for inconsistencies in reporting.
  • In some years, more lions were reported as taken than number of depredation permits issued. This may be due, but not limited, to inaccuracies in reporting. Additionally, multiple mountain lions could be taken on a single permit prior to 2013.
  • Depredation permits issued where the name of the county is not entered or legible are recorded as “Unknown County”.
  • Between 2016 and 2017, CDFW migrated all depredation permits to an electronic system.
  • Prior to 2018, the word “taken” is equivalent to “killed”. Since 2019, depredation permits which only authorize non-lethal methods under the new CDFW mountain lion depredation policy will be indicated separately in the table.

Threats to Public Safety

Mountain lions are typically solitary and elusive; often existing unseen and unheard. The Department receives hundreds of mountain lion sighting reports each year. Few sightings result in a mountain lion being identified as an imminent threat to public safety and killed under CDFW Wildlife Public Safety Guidelines. Most reports are resolved by providing species information and/or technical assistance. Cases where mountain lions threaten people are immediately addressed.

Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. Statistically speaking a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck be lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. Since 1890, there have been less than 50 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California; of that, only six have been fatal. In most cases the person was lone when the attacked occurred. List of known mountain lion attacks.

If a mountain lion is deemed a 'no harm no foul' animal and does not pose a threat, CDFW 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 to deter it, o conducting a capture to relocate it. If a mountain lion displays unusually bold or aggressive behavior toward humans, the Department will not relocate the animal because of the risk it may pose to others. If the mountain lion is declared a public safety threat, CDFW and local law enforcement will 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), CDFW will work with permitted facilities and agency partners to try and located permanent placement of the animal. Most facilities, including wildlife sanctuaries have limited space or resources to accept large wild animals for exhibit.





Laws and Regulations

The passage of the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117) by California voters established that mountain lions are a "specially protected mammal" in California. It is unlawful to possess, transport, import or sell any mountain lion or part or product thereof (including taxidermy mounts). This status and other statues prohibit CDFW from developing hunting season or take limits for this species. The act established certain exemptions from that prohibition such as: mountain lions may only be harvested 1) if a depredation permit is issued to take an individual that has killed livestock or pets; 2) to preserve public safety; 3) to protect federally-listed bighorn sheep populations.

Specimen Possession / Taxidermy

No person may sell or possess any mountain lion, part or product thereof, unless s/he is in possession of a valid, nontransferable permit issued by the department. A permit shall be issued by CDFW with the following stipulations:

  1. Any person who can demonstrate that the mountain lion, part or product thereof, was in his/her possession on or before June 6, 1990; or
  2. A nonprofit museum or government-owned facility generally open to the public, or an educational institution, for display, exhibition, or storage, for a bona fide scientific or educational purpose as determined by the department.

Permits shall be made available to department staff for inspection, upon request, and may be revoked by the department for failure to comply with the terms of the permit, this section, or Section 4800 of the Fish and Game Code. Any person issued a permit or a tag from the department for a mountain lion, or part or product thereof, prior to January 1, 2014, shall not be required to obtain a new permit, provided s/he maintains and makes available his existing permit or tag upon request of a department employee.


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

  • When recreating outside, avoid hiking, biking, or jogging alone. Do not hike, bike, or jog at dawn, dusk, or at night.
  • 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

  • Stay alert on trails.  Keep pets leashed and walk with small children, don't let them run ahead. 
  • Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
  • DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Do not turn your back. 
  • Face the animal, make loud noise and try to look bigger. If with small children, put them on your shoulders. 
  • Do not crouch down or bend over.

Frequently Asked Questions