Mountain Lions

California Trail

Location in Zoo

California Trail
2.1-2.5 feet
2 feet
3-5.5 feet
143-187 pounds
71-102 pounds

21-27 months
18- 43 months

Geographic Range

Southern Canada to Patagonia

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Puma concolor cougar

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Activity Time Frame:
Sexual Dimorphism:
90-96 days
Lifespan in the Wild:
Females 7.5 years Males 6.5 years
Lifespan in Captivity:
19-20 years


Human Wildlife Conflict


Species Specifics

Has the largest geographic range of the New World cats, apparently larger than any terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere. Based on genetic analysis, there are 6 different subspecies, including ours, the North American Puma concolor cougar.

Physical Characteristics

Compared with other large cats, the mountain lion has unusually long hind legs, which are thought to be an adaptation for jumping. They have a relatively long spinal column, which provided lumbar flexion while running. Mountain lions from warm, humid areas tend to be darker in color, while the cats from drier habitats are light colored.



Desert, savannah, tropical rain forest, alpine steppe


Home Range: There is a lot of variation depending on the range, but data show that mountain lions in the Santa Ana Mountains (southern CA) travel an average of 4 miles per day, with most travel occurring at night. Home ranges can vary in not only size, but in overlap. Males and females can have ranges with extensive, slight, or no overlap, between the home ranges of both sexes. Prey: Ranges from small rodents to fully-grown deer. Across North America, deer make up 60-80% of the mountain lion's diet. In California, mountain lions have been seen leaping boulders and dodging clumps of vegetation while hunting jackrabbits. Occasionally, they even manage to catch pronghorn antelope. Prey killed in the open are almost dragged into some brush or dense thicket before the puma begins eating. The cat remains near the kill- in one case for as long as nineteen days- with only occasional short trips away until the carcass is completely consumed. Consume between 4-10 pounds of meat a day, if possible. They do practice caching their food if they intend to come back.


Ranges from small rodents to fully-grown deer

Ecological Web

Ecological Role: Puma kills are often scavenged by other mammals including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, wolves, pigs, and bears.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

Crepuscular (mainly active at twilight). They will generally rest during the middle of the day, coinciding with the activity patterns of their major prey. However, they do change their behavior based on human activities as well (ex: becoming more nocturnal around logging).


Highly adaptable to various habitats, but because mountain lions are ambush predators, one of the habitat requirements is stalking cover (rocks, cliffs, sagebrush, or trees). Seasonal differences in habitat use depending on the movement of their prey. Have the ability to swim and climb trees if needed. When hunting, mountain lions exhibit a punctuated movement pattern: cats spend long periods waiting at one location, followed by rapid movement to another location, where the cat will again sit for a long time (an average of 42 minutes). Unless the cat makes a kill, this pattern is repeated many times a night.

Social Behavior

Generally considered solitary, but their behaviors vary from place to place because they are so adaptable to a wide range of environmental circumstances. Breeding pairs occasionally share kills, but most mountain lion groups consist of a female and her kittens. However, new research has shown mountain lions may be more social than previously thought. A recent notable example is two females with their kittens and an adult male all shared a kill. Researchers are looking into the genetics to see if these cats are related individuals. They do maintain contact through occasional direct encounters and more frequently by various visual, auditory, and olfactory forms of indirect communication.

Reproductive Behavior

Breeding pairs generally stay together 1-4 days, with a range of 1-16 days. Females generally give birth ever 17-20 months. Initially, females go through a period of mixed aggression and solicitation. Activity increases with calling, body rubbing, and the male following her closely. During copulation, the male will often bite the neck fur of the female, and both may scream and yowl.


3-4 (although 1-6 have been reported)



Listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, CITES Appendix I Population trend: Decreasing though their range appears to be increasing in the United States. There are no accurate estimates for their full population, partially because they are so elusive, and partially because there is not enough research done throughout their range. Mountain lions are being killed at higher rates today than even just a few years ago. In 2008, 1,770 mountain lions were harvested in just 7 states, compared to 843 in 10 states in 1980.


Historically, the mountain lion was found from northern British Columbia across the southern portions of the Canadian provinces to New Brunswick, south through all of the United States, through Central America, and into South America to the Southern top of Chile. Extirpated by the late 1890s from the eastern half of its historic range in the U.S. and Canada, except for a small population in southern Florida.

Current Threats

Our Role

Human-Wildlife Conflict Training 2012: CSC facilitated an intense and progressive training in H/W Conflict Resolution. Bay Area mountain lion stakeholders took part in this ground-breaking work. Through the coming together of these various agencies, non-profits, local parks, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife and mountain lion researchers, an alliance was formed. BACAT: The alliance, called the Bay Area Cougar Action Team, created in 2013, supports the California Department of Fish and Wildlife around mountain lion encounters, ensuring a safe outcome for people and pumas. Members of Oakland Zoo’s staff participate in response team efforts. RESPONSE: Oakland Zoo staff facilitated the response to a lion in San Francisco, ensuring the right support was deployed to back up CDFW. Oakland Zoo equipment and staff were on the scene, and the vet clinic was ready if needed. Oakland Zoo helped pass SB 132, a measure that allows various non-profits and other individuals and organizations help the CDFW address incidences of mountain lions in human populated areas. Mountain Lion Holding and Vet Care: Oakland Zoo offers our veterinary facility to care for and hold a wild lion that is need of temporary care until a decision is made of where the cat can be released. Research: Oakland Zoo vets and staff are involved in various puma research projects in the East Bay. Shared Messages: Oakland Zoo is working with all CA stakeholders to create connected California Mountain Lion Brochure. Corridors/Mountain Lion Foundation: Oakland Zoo is working with Mountain Lion Foundation to create lion corridors in needed areas in California.

How You Can Help

Fascinating Facts

This species is listed in the dictionary under more names than any other mammal in the United States. Columbus was one of the first to call this cat a 'lion' because its tawny coat resembled that of the African lion.

There was a debate amongst scientists as to whether mountain lions should be in the small or large cat family for many years. Based on morphology and the fact that they purr like smaller cats and do not roar like large cats, they were originally placed in the small cat family. However, with the increase in genetic data, they have been placed in their own lineage (which includes the mountain lion, jaguarmundi, and cheetah) in between large and small cats.

In the early Pleistocene in North America, cats like our current mountain lions were common and in some areas lived alongside lions, jaguars, and a cheetah-like cat.

About our Mountain Lions:

Oakland Zoo rescued our resident mountain lions from different sites in California. They were all orphaned, likely due to car strike of the mother, or depredation killing. They could not be re-wilded, as mountain lion cubs must train with their mother for the first full two years of their lives in order to compete in the wild.

Two mountain lions call Oakland Zoo home: Silverado and Coloma. A third rescued resident mountain lion, Toro, passed away in 2022 after developing an aggressive form of cancer.