Mountain Lion Damage Assessment

Wildlife Damage Management February 05, 2008 Print Friendly and PDF

Mountain Lion | Mountain Lion Overview | Mountain Lion Damage Assessment | Mountain Lion Damage Management | Mountain Lion Acknowledgements | Mountain Lion Resources | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information


Contents

Damage and Damage Identification

Mountain lion, Felis concolor
Mountain lion, Felis concolor

Mountain lions are predators on sheep, goats, cattle, and horses. House cats, dogs, pigs, and poultry are also prey. Damage is often random and unpredictable, but when it occurs, it can consist of large numbers of livestock killed in short periods of time. Cattle, horse, and burro losses are often chronic in areas of high lion populations. Lions are considered to have negative impacts on several bighorn sheep herds in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.

In areas of low deer numbers, mountain lions may kill deer faster than deer can reproduce, thus inhibiting deer population growth. This usually occurs only in situations where alternative prey keep lions in the area, and higher deer populations are not close by.

Lions are opportunistic feeders on larger prey, including adult elk and cattle. Individual lions may remain with a herd and prey on it consistently for many weeks, causing significant number reductions. Mountain lions cause about 20% of the total livestock predation losses in western states annually. Historically, lion damage was suffered by relatively few livestock producers who operate in areas of excellent lion habitat and high lion populations. This historic pattern has changed in recent years, as lion distribution has spread, resulting in frequent sightings and occasional damage in residential developments adjacent to rangelands, montane forests, and other mountain lion habitat. Predation typically is difficult to manage, although removal of the offending animals is possible if fresh kills can be located.

Sheep, goats, calves, and deer are typically killed by a bite to the top of the neck or head. Broken necks are common. Occasionally, mountain lions will bite the throat and leave marks similar to those of coyotes. The upper canine teeth of a mountain lion, however, are farther apart and considerably larger than a coyote’s (1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches [3.8 to 5.7 cm] versus 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches [2.8 to 3.5 cm]). Claw marks are often evident on the carcass. Mountain lions tend to cover their kills with soil, leaves, grass, and other debris. Long scratch marks (more than 3 feet [1 m]) often emanate from a kill site. Occasionally, mountain lions drag their prey to cover before feeding, leaving well-defined drag marks.

Tracks of the mountain lion are generally hard to observe except in snow or on sandy ground. The tracks are relatively round, and are about 4 inches (10 cm) across. The three-lobed heel pad is very distinctive and separates the track from large dog or coyote tracks. Claw marks will seldom show in the lion track. Heel pad width ranges from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm). The tracks of the front foot are slightly larger than those of the hind foot. The four toes are somewhat teardrop shaped and the rear pad has three lobes on the posterior end.

Although uncommon, mountain lion attacks on humans occasionally occur. Fifty-three unprovoked mountain attacks on humans were documented in the US and Canada from 1890 to 1990. Nine attacks resulted in 10 human deaths. Most victims (64%) were children who were either alone or in groups of other children. Attacks on humans have increased markedly in the last two decades (see Beier 1991).

Legal Status

Most of the western states, except California, allow the harvest of lions. They are protected in all other states where present. Generally, western states manage mountain lions very conservatively as big game animals. Lion harvests are severely restricted by the harvest methods allowed and by quotas.

If mountain lion predation is suspected in states where lions are protected, contact a local wildlife management office for assistance. Most states allow for the protection of livestock from predators by landowners or their agents when damage occurs or is expected. Most states, however, require that a special permit for the control of mountain lions be obtained, or that the wildlife agency personnel or their agent do the control work. Several states have a damage claim system that allows for recovery of the value of livestock lost to mountain lion predation.

Economics of Damage and Control

Verifying livestock losses to mountain lions is difficult because of the rough mountainous terrain and vegetation cover present where most lion predation occurs. Many losses occur that are never confirmed. Generally, lion predation is responsible for only a small fraction of total predation losses suffered by ranchers, but individual ranchers may suffer serious losses.

Mountain Lion | Mountain Lion Overview | Mountain Lion Damage Assessment | Mountain Lion Damage Management | Mountain Lion Acknowledgements | Mountain Lion Resources | ICWDM | Wildlife Species Information


Summary of Damage Prevention and Control Methods

Exclusion

Install heavy woven-wire or electric fences to protect poultry and domestic animals of high value.

Cultural Methods

Remove brush and timber near farm or ranch buildings.

Frightening

Night lighting, blaring music, or barking dogs may repel lions.

Repellents

None are registered.

Toxicants

None are registered.

Fumigants

None are registered.

Trapping

Leg hold traps sizes No. 4 and 4 1/2 Newhouse. Leg hold snares. Snares. Cage traps.

Shooting

Used in conjunction with predator kill watching, or calling.

Other Methods

The use of hounds trained to trail and tree lions is very effective.

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USDA / NIFA

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.