mountain lion

If You Encounter a Lion | Stay Safe | Coexisting Video | Lions at Rancho | Identification

Mountain Lion Conservation Research

In the densely populated Bay Area, Midpen preserves provide critical remaining habitat for native wildlife, such as mountain lions and nearby nature for people. Midpen began new mountain lion conservation research in the fall of 2020 to learn more about how mountain lions use open space lands also frequently visited by people. The results will help guide Midpen’s science-based land. Midpen is specifically studying: 

  • Mountain lion movement and habitat use
  • Factors influencing mountain lion behavior
  • Strategies to help people and mountain lions coexist

We hope you’ll follow along by signing up for our email list, and learn more about the many challenges these important big cats face, how we can best safely coexist to help them survive and thrive in the Santa Cruz Mountains region and beyond.

Collaring Study

In partnership with the Santa Cruz Puma Project and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, mountain lions in multiple Midpen preserves with high visitation will be fitted with temporary tracking collars that do not adversely affect them, and provide GPS information similar to fitness trackers, before automatically falling off. This science is humanely conducted and is aimed at the long-term conservation of these important native predators. 

No mountain lions have been collared for this study to date. Collaring is expected to begin in Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve in winter 2020-21. The collaring effort may expand to other highly-visited preserves including Fremont Older and Piccheti Ranch Open Space Preserves and others. 

Example from Santa Cruz County of GPS collar data. Each color represents an individual collared lion. Image courtesy Santa Cruz Puma Project

Wildlife Camera Study

In the fall of 2020, Midpen biologists began using a scientific grid system of motion-activated still cameras, currenlty only in Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, to learn more about
the movement, abundance and diversity of mountain lions and other wildlife. Cameras are positioned and used for wildlife research only. Volunteers are invited to participate in this research.

Learn more about the camera study, see some of the first images and let us know about your interest in volunteering on the Wildlife Photo Index Research Project web page.

Mountain Lions Play an Important Role in the Ecosystem

Mountain lions, also known as pumas and cougars, play an important role as predators in our local ecosystem. Their primary food source is deer, but they can also prey on smaller animals like raccoons, rabbits. Occassionally, they opportunistically prey on domestic pets and livestock. More than half of California, including most of undeveloped San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, is prime mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions are a specially protected species in California. 

Mountain lions face many challenges. They need large habitats, and as open space in the Santa Cruz Mountains has become hemmed in by roads and development, some are pushed into the wildland-urban interface. This is one reason why wildlife corridors like Midpen's Highway 17 Wildlife and Trail Crossing, are critical for allowing wildlife to move safely across the landscape to access the resources they need to survive. 

Download Mountain Lion Fact Sheet

If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

If you encounter a mountain lion, take these safety precautions:

  • Keep children and pets close.
  • Do not approach the lion.
  • Do not turn your back on the lion.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over.
  • Back away slowly while paying attention to how the lion is reacting to your movements. If you are getting farther away from their young, the lion may relax or walk away.
  • Leave the area and inform other preserve visitors of the potential danger.
  • Fight back, if attacked.
  • Report sightings immediately to 650-691-2165.

Mountain lion habitat warning sign.

Stay Safe in Mountain Lion Country

  • Stay alert when visiting a preserve.
  • 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 wear headphones.

Coexisting with Cougars Video Presentation

Learn all about mountain lions with Midpen Resource Management Specialist Matt Sharp Chaney. Matt provides an overview of mountain lion biology, habitat and research. He also shares how hikers, families and neighbors can stay safe in mountain lion habitat.

Mountain Lion Activity at Rancho San Antonio

Mountain lions have been observed in Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve. Though seldom seen, they also roam most Midpen preserves.

Mountain lion observations at Rancho San Antonio

Map is illustrative to demonstrate ongoing mountain lion presence across the preserve in a given year, it is not intended for analytical purposes.


The mountain lion has a small head and small rounded ears. It has a very long tail that is about 2/3rds the length of its body.

  • Color: Generally tan, but can range from gray to brown, with a whitish underside. The ears and tail are tipped with black. Cubs have camouflage spots that fade as they mature.
  • Size: Adult males can reach 8 feet in length from nose to tail; and weigh 130-150 lbs.  Adult females can reach up to 7 feet in length and weigh 65-90 lbs.
  • Tracks: Unlike a dog, mountain lions don’t leave a nail mark and their pads are shaped like the letter M.
  • Behavior: Adult pumas are solitary and territorial animals. Males can have territories up to 100 square miles and females’ territories can range up to 60 square miles. They are most active between dusk and dawn, and generally avoid contact with humans, but have been known to stand their ground.

size comparison of mountain lion to bobcat, domestic cat and human

Midpen supports effort to protect mountain lions

Midpen’s nearly 65,000 acres of preserved public open space provide prime habitat for mountain lions, a top predator in our region facing many challenges in our region. In April, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 5-0 to consider Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions for listing under the state’s Endangered Species Act.  A year-long review by the CDFW will determine if six geographic populations of mountain lions, including those in the Santa Cruz Mountains, should be designated as threatened or endangered.

We’re working to protect regional mountain lion populations by preserving habitat, increasing habitat connectivity through this wildlife crossing project, promoting rodenticide regulations and supporting research that improves our understanding of lion populations, ecology and behavior throughout our region of influence.