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California Calls on Residents to Decrease Mountain Lion, Coyote Encounters

mountain lion

Story at-a-glance -

  • Both coyotes and mountain lions typically avoid humans, but when habitats collide, encounters become more frequent
  • Avoid feeding coyotes or deer (mountain lions’ favorite food); secure garbage and keep pet food indoors
  • If you see a mountain lion or coyote, pick up small children and pets, yell, throw rocks and make yourself appear as large as possible; do not run

By Dr. Becker

Wild animals are increasingly moving into Americans' backyards or, more aptly, Americans are increasingly encroaching on wild animals' habitat. When those animals are potentially dangerous, like coyotes or mountain lions, people must adapt in order to live safely in harmony.

California is one such area seeing an influx of wild-animal encounters with humans. Coyotes live in much of the state and more than half of California is prime mountain lion habitat. Both coyotes and mountain lions typically avoid humans, but when habitats collide, encounters become more frequent.

Humans Are Causing the Problem

Rebecca Dmytryk, owner of Humane Wildlife Control, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that people are to blame for increasing numbers of coyote and mountain lion sightings in Santa Cruz, California. She said:1

"Trapping, poisoning, and killing are not long-term answers … We have to understand these wild animals become more prevalent in our neighborhoods because of the resources we provide them. That means food, water and shelter."

Opportunistic animals drawn in by the promise of food may seize livestock or pets. There were even four children who received minor injuries from coyote attacks in Irvine, California in 2015.2 It bears repeating that such encounters are rare.

Only one fatality has been linked to a coyote attack in California — a 3-year-old child who was killed in 1981.3 For mountain lions, there have been three fatal attacks from 1986 to 2014, along with 12 non-fatal attacks.4

Pets May Be Particularly at Risk

Mountain lion attacks on pets and livestock are much more common; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) receives hundreds of such reports annually.

Mountain lions' main food source is deer, and the animals can be found anywhere deer are present, often in the foothills and mountains. The San Jose, California City Council reported:5

"Generally, mountain lions are calm, quiet, and elusive. They are most commonly found in areas with plentiful prey and adequate cover.

Such conditions exist in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open spaces. Consequently, the number of mountain lion/ human interactions has increased.

This increase likely is due to a variety of reasons: more people moving into mountain lion habitat, an increase in prey populations, more people using hiking and running trails in mountain lion habitat, and a greater awareness of the presence of mountain lions."

How to Keep Coyotes Away From Your Property

Coyotes' favorite food sources are rodents and rabbits (rodent control is one of their key roles in the ecosystem). However, if food is scarce or opportunity presents itself, coyotes will also eat garbage, pet food and pets. To make your property less attractive to coyotes, CDFW recommends the following:6

Put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over.

Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.

Bring pets in at night, and do not leave pet food outside.

Avoid using bird feeders as they attract rodents and other coyote prey.

Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry and other livestock.

Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.

Ask your neighbors to follow these tips.

The following precautions can also help keep you safe if you live in "coyote country." Perhaps most important, if you see a coyote, immediately pick up children and small pets.

Never feed or attempt to tame coyotes. The result may be deadly conflicts with pets or livestock, or serious injuries to small children.

Do not leave small children or pets outside unattended.

Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

Trim ground-level shrubbery to reduce hiding places.

Be aware that coyotes are more active in the spring, when feeding and protecting their young.

If followed by a coyote, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks in the animal's direction.

How to Make Your Property Less Attractive to Mountain Lions

Since mountain lions prey on deer, a key strategy to keeping mountain lions away is to make your property less hospitable to deer. Many of the same strategies that keep coyotes away will also work for mountain lions. CDFW recommends:7

Don't feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.

Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat.

Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.

Don't leave small children or pets outside unattended.

Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.

Don't allow pets outside 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 you live in mountain lion country, CDFW recommends the following tips to stay safe:

Do not hike, bike, or jog alone.

Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active – dawn, dusk, and at night.

Keep a close watch on small children.

Do not approach a mountain lion.

If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects.

If attacked, fight back.

If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.

If you see a mountain lion, pick up small children and pets.

If you live in an area with coyotes or mountain lions, be sure to share these tips with your friends and neighbors. While each individual can make a difference by implementing them, it will take whole neighborhoods' efforts to prompt real change. Dmytryk explained:8

"People can make changes individually … But neighbors, everyone, has to work together to make neighborhoods unattractive to wildlife."