Mountain Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains


This is the picture that’s been going around of a mountain lion in the Santa Monica mountains. Apparently, there are about 10-12 mountain lions in the mountains over there and researchers have been tracking them for a decade or so in an attempt to understand their habits and, ultimately, how humans are impacting those habits. (Spoiler alert: Badly.) Part of the research includes cameras set up in wildlife areas to try and catch pictures of them doing their mountain lion thing. Thus, this picture of the mountain lion near the L.A. county line.

Personally, though, I like this picture better:

Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?
Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?

Of course, that also happens to be where I went for a run the other day. In one of my less brilliant ideas—not because of the mountain lions—I decided to do my last long-ish run down the Santa Ynez trail in Topanga State Park. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it went something like: ‘Oh, a canyon trail to a waterfall, that’ll be nice.’ I didn’t think about the fact that if I started at the top of a mountain and ran down to a waterfall, I’d have to run down for a long time. And then I’d have to come back up. I also thought, I dunno, that the trail would be maintained, and not that steep, and not rocky, and not heavily unpopulated.

Anyway. Only one of my miles was under 10 minutes. And it prompted this conversation with Justin this weekend:

Me: Well you know how I don’t like too much nature in my runs.
Him: Right, because of the mountain lions.
Me: Yes, see, everyone knows that.

Because everyone knows I don’t like too much nature with my nature. I prefer for it to stay over there and I’ll stay over here and then we can all get along.

What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Mountain Lion

This is a specifically requested follow-up to ‘What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Rattlesnake.’

Mountain lions are also quite common around here. People are always seeing them wandering down from the hills — even all the way into the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley. Steve swears he saw one at the top of Fairfax-Bolinas Road, by the golf course. He also says he wasn’t worried about it because the lion was eating a deer, so something in that story doesn’t sound totally right.

Whenever anyone says they saw a mountain lion, the police always assume it was really a bobcat (which are, evidently, less dangerous), because they’re easy to confuse. You’re supposed to look at the tail to tell the difference. So, if a large cat is running at you, remember to have it turn around.


On the prowl. With a shorter tail.
On the prowl. With a shorter tail. From Tory Kallman

Mountain Lion:

With a long tail.
With a long tail.

With a rattlesnake, the main things you need to know are about what to do after you’re bitten while running on trails. With a mountain lion, the main things you need to know are about not getting bitten. Once you’ve been attacked, there’s really only one thing to do: call 9-1-1.

1. Not that many people get killed by mountain lions — just 20 in the last 100 years. So, you know, not a huge problem. Mostly, it’s small children that get attacked, suggesting that the best way to not be attacked is to not be small. In recent years, more adults running, hiking, biking, skiing in lion territory have been attacked, suggesting that the second best way to not be attacked is not to wander into their territory.

2. Avoid mountain lions in the first place. Which sounds stupid, but, well, apparently needs to be said. If you’re on a trail in the hills where there is nature and shit, you really shouldn’t be wearing headphones. Mountain lions are more active at dusk and dawn. They also like to go after small things — children, dogs, people by themselves. Don’t run on trails at night. Run in groups at those times — large cats are less likely to attack herds. Stick to trails, especially frequently used trails, instead of wandering into undergrowth. If I do end up stuck on a trail at night (thank YOU Steve and Justin), then it’s always helpful to yell or talk loudly while you go, so as not to surprise any animals out. This led to one instance where I was running full speed, sprinting to get back to my car as dusk fell, and yelling at the top of my lungs, “DON’T EAT ME,” the entire time.

3. If you happen upon a mountain lion, back away. Be large. As is always the advice with these kinds of things: stay calm.  You’re supposed to essentially convince it that you’re the scariest thing out there, which means raise your arms, talk loudly but calmly, pick up any kids or dogs with you so they don’t run. If it starts to behave aggressively, you should throw things and yell –while backing away. But, don’t bend over or crouch to pick up things to throw, because then you’ll look small and it’ll attack. (How you’re supposed to throw things without picking them up is a mystery to me. Presumably, you carry rocks for just such an occasion.)

4. Don’t run, but don’t stand. Traditional logic has always said that if you turn and start to run, then the lion will instinctively chase, which has caused me to be afraid that a lion in the brush will mistake me running on the trail for me running away and try to chase me. New research is suggesting that ‘Don’t Run’ may not be the best advice. If you can run quickly on relatively even ground, you have a decent chase of escaping, but if it catches you then you’re more likely to be killed. If you run on uneven ground, it may mistake you for limping or being weak, which encourages it to attack. If you turn your back, it may go for your spinal cord. But, if you stand totally still, you are almost definitely going to be attacked. Make sense? Good.

5. Fight back. Again, this also sounds stupid, but some animals, supposedly, are less likely to kill you if you play dead. That is NOT the case with mountain lions. You need to convince it that you are too much trouble to eat. If a lion attacks you, hit it. People have been successful in getting away after hitting it with sticks, rocks, gardening tools, etc. This is partially why many people carry a walking stick.

Really, when I think too hard about all the things that can attack me, I start to lose my shit. I generally just take comfort in the fact that if I get attacked by a mountain lion, I will be the first in Marin County and it will definitely be big news.