Some Notes on Mountain Lions in Western USA (and elsewhere…)

The recent comments to the post about Big Bend show continued interest in mountain lions. I keep informal track of sightings as mentioned in newspapers, as well as keeping loose tally of how and when friends come across them. Basic pattern is that there is no pattern, other than roadkill and “civilian” sightings indicate the populations are increasing.

It does seem that almost everybody who spends a lot of time out of doors in the American West will see one sooner or later. Average seems to be one every ten years or so? It’s never expected and sometimes it’s just a flash across the road through the headlights. Nor does there seem to be a particularly good habitat; anywhere they live, the possibility is there. The birding spot in SE’n AZ called “Patagonia” had a mountain lion sighted a few times last winter; this spring there was one being seen in a residential suburb of L.A. called La Crescenta; one was trapped and relocated this spring in the desert L.A. suburb called the Antelope Valley. I don’t think going to Big Bend is a particularly good solution, but then, it’s not a bad one, either. It’s just not going to be guaranteed. Many years ago I saw Mexican grey wolf in Big Bend —- it just ran in front of the car when I was on my way to a trailhead. A friend who lives in Boulder has seen several mountain lions, but then he’s hiking or running or climbing several days a week. I saw one in the Everglades once, and yet rangers who have worked there 20 years have yet to see one. Time and luck it seems, time and luck.

A group in the UK offers mammal tours and they have a good mountain lion track record, or as good as this species allows. I was on a Brazil trip with them and we had two in the Pantanal (seen distantly by spotlight); they also run Patagonia trips that some years have a stake-out puma at Torres del Paine park in Chile. This group is called Wild Wings and they have ace leaders and reliable ground agents; other than the cost and fixed dates of departure, I recommend them highly. If you’re on a tight budget then don’t torment yourself by going to the website, since these trips are NOT cheap.

Another UK birding group worth knowing is Birdquest. They are hard hard core birders, but their trip reports include very reliable mammal lists.

Perhaps we can work out some kind of exchange? I will trade some of my “extra” mountain lions for a spotted skunk (eastern OR western species).

Charles Hood, Palmdale, CA / hoodcw@gmail.com

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8 Comments on “Some Notes on Mountain Lions in Western USA (and elsewhere…)”

  1. tomeslice Says:

    Thank you for this!

    I do believe that in Torres del Paine there are guides who can increase your chances at finding them to over 60-70% if you spend 3-4 days there, (just from reading trip reports and hearing opinions), and if I understand correctly, there are almost no wildlife watchers who come back from a week in Paraguay’s Defensores Del Chaco and its surroundings without the word ‘puma’ or even ‘pumas’ on their mammal list, but as far as Western USA is concerned I totally reached the same conclusions as you. But keep the information coming 🙂

    I also spoke with Boone Smith from Discovery Channel (through Facebook, of course!) who gave me some pointers, but they basically consisted of tracking one in the snow to a kill and waiting there until about dawn. I wanted him to go with me, cause I don’t want to get lost by myself in the frozen wilderness, but he had to go to Afghanistan to track down Snow Leopards.. Bastard.. (Just kidding, he’s awesome and im a fan!) But he also told me that my best bet is to go with houndsmen who can track one for me, but I don’t want to support that business because houndsmen take hunters out to kill mountain lions.
    So that’s my 2cents’ worth.

    Tomes


  2. There is a reserve in NW Argentina (forgot the name; never been there) where they are supposedly tame and sometimes approach cars.

  3. Greg Easton Says:

    I have lived in the American west for 30 years and only seen a few tracks…I have spoken to hounds men in Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Oregon who “find” them regularly but have decided against joining them. So I finally went to Torres del Paine and had success on my last day with a guide as told in my trip report. Jose Vargas Sandoval, the park ranger is the guide to get…

  4. Claire Says:

    There is a company, based in South Africa, that specializes in mammal tours. The name is Indri. I’ve traveled with their bird company, Rockjumper, and they are very good and competitively priced. Indri’s mammal tours are more expensive than the bird tours because, as I’ve had it explained to me, the participants are not as willing to tolerate “basic” lodging. That said, I’ll be camping for 8 nights with Indri in the Himalaya next fall looking for snow leopard, which is not a very expensive tour since the “lodging” costs will be so low.

    • charleswhood Says:

      I used Indri to make arrangements for a solo tour to Uganda. It was a good experience; I would use them again, if the chance allowed me to. / Charles Hood

  5. jasonwoolgar Says:

    If a puma is the main target, then the combination of Torres del Paine and the guide Jose will be difficult to beat and I have a 100% success rate there. I have just returned from a trip where we saw 8 pumas in total and Jose actually lives in the park and follows their movements on a daily basis. On the first afternoon we met him watching a mother and two sub adults and the next day he took us to area where we saw another mother with two very young cubs, one of which has been born without a tail! We spent several days observing this family and at one stage were sitting within 20 metres of the mother as she slept and then went to look for her cubs, which were already fairly independent and spent most of the day sheltered in a different area. On another day we were watching the mother, again at close range, and a large male in our binoculars, that Jose had spotted walking across a distant hill. Of course there are no guarantees, but I would say that if you allowed four days with Jose you would be incredibly unlucky not to see at least one puma and the park is also home to a number of other interesting mammals.


  6. I suspect, at least for me and I am sure others, part of the interest in seeing Mountain lion in the states and not South America is because of it’s difficulty here and because we keep North America lists. Basically the same reason birders are willing to twitch some Asian shorebird that is easy in say Japan, but extraordinarily rare when one is spotted in California or some other state.

  7. mattinidaho Says:

    I’m of the same mind as Morgan. I’ve lived in Idaho twelve years and have spent a lot of time here outdoors for various work and fun pursuits. I have yet to see a mountain lion.

    For me, that is the appeal of the mountain lion: its extremely elusive nature. I really want to see it, but it has to be here in the Rocky Mountain West.


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