Mountain Lion Encounters: What To Do and How to Avoid Them

We’ve outlined the differences between a mountain lion and a bobcat and how rare it is to see a cougar, but here’s information on how to avoid mountain lions and what to do if you actually encounter one.

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series about mountain lions in Marin.


Local wildlife officials have told Patch there are probably only two to three mountain lions in all of Marin and, while it’s extremely unlikely to encounter one, it can happen. 

First, if you see a mountain lion, make sure it’s really a mountain lion. Last week we highlighted the differences between mountain lions and bobcats, which are frequently incorrectly reported as mountain lions.

Second, don’t panic. There have been no verified mountain lion attacks in Marin since they started being recorded in 1890, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. California has only had 16 verified mountain lion attacks since 1890 and the Bay Area hasn’t had any verified attacks since 1909.

Rob Ruiz, Marin County Parks chief park ranger and Zara McDonald, executive director of the Sausalito-based Felidae Conservation Fund, gave us information on what to do if you encounter a mountain lion in the wild and how you can avoid them:


If you see a mountain lion:   

  • Appear as big as possible
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Do not approach the animal
  • Do not run or turn your back
  • Pick up children
  • Speak loudly and firmly
  • Throw rocks and sticks, etc.
  • Fight back if attacked
  • Try to take a picture of the wild feline so the sighting can be verified
  • Do not call 911, instead contact Felidae Conservation Fund at (415) 229-9335 or info@bapp.org, or call the Department of Fish and Game office for the Bay Delta region (707) 944-5500.


There are also steps residents can take to avoid drawing mountain lions or bobcats to their property: 

  • Keep food sources (including pet food) out of the yard
  • Keep bushes trimmed so mountain lions and bobcats can’t easily hide
  • Keep domestic pets safe at night
  • Keep garbage clean, because it will draw rats and rodents that will draw bobcats


And finally, steps you can do when you’re outdoors to avoid mountain lions:

  • Avoid hiking, biking or running alone (“It’s never good to jog or bike alone if you are way out in the woods, even if you fall and break your ankle,” Ruiz said.)
  • Avoid being outside between dusk and dawn
  • Keep children close
  • Never approach a cougar of any size, especially a kitten
  • Avoid deer carcasses (They can feast on one deer carcass for a week, hiding it in bushes and staying in the area. If you ever encounter a deer carcass in bushes with leaves and twigs on top of it, don’t stick around, Ruiz said.)


Mountain lions are secretive creatures, Ruiz said. “Wherever you hike, I’m sure one has seen you and you haven’t seen it.”

It’s up to humans to respect the wild felines, Ruiz said. “They live here. They were here before us.”

You can find more informatin about living with mountain lions on the Bay Area Puma Project website.  

Have you come face to face with a mountain lion in Marin? Tell us below in the Comments!

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  5. Mountain Lions Vs. Bobcats: Do You Know the Difference?

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ted van midde October 13, 2012 at 12:46 AM
I saw a huge mountain lion in Novato this year when I was deer hunting on the Silveria Ranch north of the dumps across the highway. I have seen numerous mountain lions in my days living in Marin and hunting in Humboldt county. The mountain lion that I saw was at least 200 pounds or more. It reminded me of seeing a circus lion. It was amazing how long it was. The size was equal to a off road quad, 6 or 7 feet long with a tail. That mountain lion would not be afraid of anything. If it was hungry I would not want to be near it. Judging from its size it was anything but hungry. They can kill a deer a day if they are available. They take the animals they have killed up trees or carry them into the brush. I am waiting to hear from someone else who might happen to see this mountain lion in Novato just to have another person say, yes thats one big cat.
Bracken Insurance Agency Inc July 25, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Between 1971 & 1974, I was 2 to 4 years old, we lived at 55 Merced Ave San Anselmo, (we don't live there anymore) this duplex is on a very narrow corner on the hill behind Drake High School. At that time there was a vacant lot next door and a path that lead you down to drake high school's football field. I was sitting by our mail box at the end of our long driveway waiting for my father to come home from work. My father would put me on his lap and allow me to steer the car into the drive way. While I waited by myself I heard a rustling in the bushes across the street from me, about 15 feet away. Suddenly a mountain lion appeared in the middle of the street 8-10 feet from me. I knew instantly that it was a mountain lion and I was petrified with fear. I stood up, opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out, I tried to run into the house but my fear kept me in place. This lion looked at me from the time I stood up to the time it went down the path to Drake. This could have been seconds or minutes I just don’t know how long we looked at each other. Thinking back on the incident had I been able to run it would have been on me in two steps. This incident may have been why my parents let my brother and I each get a dog. Just the other day I drove up Merced Ave and looked at where I had sat waiting for my dad, and then looked at the bushes where the lion came from. I was even more amazed about how lucky I was to walk away unharmed.
Dee Laine October 27, 2013 at 01:03 AM
I'm a horse back rider and have done a lot of riding in Pt Reyes National Park. About 8 yrs. ago within a 6 month period I saw two Mt. lions. They may have been the same animal although I thought the 1st one was a redder color. What was notable about the cats were that they were small in size or possibly juveniles and they had very long tails the redder cat having distinct dark markings like the end of his tail. Both times I was on my big 16.1h. horse which I galloped in their direction to keep an eye on the cats as they ran off and finally both ducked into the landscape. I've seen coyotes, fox and bobcats in the park and I know the difference. Both times I galloped to within maybe 50 feet of the cats. Interestingly, my horse was good with a chase but if the cats had turned on him he would have been terrified.


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