Mountain Lions can be found in Orange County throughout the Santa Ana Mountain Range down to the foothills directly connected to them. Population estimates are thought to be up to 30 individuals which is considered caring capacity based on the amount of land and prey available to them. Although mountain lions do give birth to several kittens each spring, their population is not increasing due to vehicle collisions, rodenticides, and loss of habitat. These big cats play an extremely vital role in the ecosystem by keeping deer populations in check and they are often confused with bobcats which are our second largest native cat. Mountain lions have long tails that reach the ground compared to bobcats which have stubby tails, bobcats can be found in many open areas even in between urban areas while mountain lions will only be in the hills on the outskirts of Orange County. These mountain lions face an uncertain future as they lack the DNA diversity since they are land locked and cannot interact with other mountain lions besides the ones already here. Orange County's mountain lion population is pretty much sealed off to the Santa Ana Mountains and the wilderness areas directly connected to it. Some research is being conducted by biologists from UC Davis which studies their population, movements, and more. While mountain lions are reported daily in places like Aliso And Woods Canyon and Laguna Coast Wilderness, those always turn out to be bobcats. There has only been 1 confirmed mountain lion sighting on the coastal side of I5 since around the 1970's or 80's, that info can be confirmed with any local park ranger. We do get photos/videos sent to us claiming to have witnessed a mountain lion but it is almost always a bobcat or sometimes even a house cat. National Geographic recently published an article about why people mistake bobcats for mountain lions so often.
Precautions you can take to help prevent mountain lion attacks when in mountain lion areas:
1. Never crouch, if you must do so to fix a bike or tie a shoelace, make sure someone else is with you that stays standing up and alert, mountain lions prefer to attack from behind on the neck.
2. Never run, you may make the lion assume you are running from it which will trigger its instinct to attack
3. Never use any kind of audio devices over or in your ears, always be alert of audible movement around you
4. If you encounter a mountain lion, stand your ground but do not approach or instigate any kind of threat that may cause the lion to defend itself, make yourself appear larger and talk loud and confidently while backing away slowly, do not turn your back to the lion.
These are some recommendations while enjoying the local outdoors, remember that they prefer not to have anything to do with humans but if we place ourselves in what's left of their environment, then we must educate ourselves. These are wild animals and are unpredictable and they deserve the utmost respect.
For more information about the mountain lions of Southern California, visit CA Mountain Lions which has been created by biologists from UC Davis
Mountain Lion Range
NEW for 2020! We've created a map of what we believe is the best reference for Orange County's mountain lion range based on many years of camera placement, confirmed reports, and studies from biologists. This map mainly refers to the Orange County side of The Santa Ana Mountains from The 91 freeway to Ortega Highway, outside of that and on Riverside County side, we cannot be as certain of. This guide does not mean there cannot be mountain lions outside this mapped area but is a general reference for what we know as mountain lion range, outside of that is not likely to have mountain lions but as wild animals of course they can go wherever they please so you still need to use your best judgement and understand that wild animals exist in the wilderness.
What to do if you encounter a mountain lion
An event caught on camera by me shows a perfect example of what to do if you encounter a mountain lion
Mountain lion prints
The difference between cat and canine prints is the lack of nail impressions on a cats print due to the ability to retract their claws when walking, whereas canines cannot retract their claws leaving nail impressions. Cats also have wider pads with 2 upper lobes and 3 lower lobes whereas canines have a single upper lobe and 2 lower lobes. Just because you see a large print does not mean it's a mountain lion print although it's easy to believe it is, there are some large coyote prints and also some large domestic dog prints that can easily be mistaken for mountain lions based on size alone. Mountain lion prints are generally around 3"x3" and some change while some domestic dog prints can be over 5"
Mountain Lion Videos
Enjoy some mountain lion videos, all filmed here in Orange County
Need help identifying a print?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a photo of the animal print. If possible, place something next to the print for size comparison like a coin or car key