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Mountain Lion/Rattlesnake Info

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Identification

Conejo Open Space is home to the "Pacific Rattlesnake" (Crotalus viridis helleri). These snakes can be recognized by:

  • triangular-shaped head is larger than neck.
  • thick, heavy body with blunt tail and rattle.

Hiker Protection

  • Rattlesnakes are timid by nature and will not strike unless they feel threatened.
  • You can reduce encounters with rattlesnakes by staying on designated trails.
  • Be careful where you place your hands and feet, and where you sit.
  • Do not approach or pick up snakes--whether they are venomous or non-venomous. Most snakes will travel on if left alone.
  • Never hike alone. A companion can render aid, help transport you, or go for help.

Mountain Lions

Introduction

Mountain lions (Felis concolor) are the largest native North American cat except for the slightly larger jaguar. Mountain lions are known by a number of different names--cougar, panther, painter, catamount, and puma. They are primarily nocturnal, shy, elusive, and solitary (except during the breeding season and when young are traveling with the female). They are very fast animals over a short distance, but because of relatively small lung capacity, cannot run great distances. They are agile tree climbers. Males are generally larger than females, averaging 130 to 150 pounds in weight and ranging in length from 42 to 90 inches. Females average 65 to 90 pounds. Pads on the forefeet are larger than those on the hind feet. Heel pads on both the fore- and hind feet have a distinctive three-lobe appearance. Claw-marks seldom show in the tracks of this species.

Mountain lions may be encountered in most of the larger open space areas in the Conejo Valley, although sightings are rare. Below is a comparison between the mountain lion and the bobcat. The bobcat is commonly seen in open space areas in Thousand Oaks.

MOUNTAIN LION

SIZE: Length 42 to 90 in.
Weight 65 to 200 lbs.
COLOR: Solid, tawny--grayish; cub is spotted.
TAIL: Long with black tip (30 to 36 in.)
EARS: Round, black tips, no tufts

BOBCAT

SIZE: Length 25 to 30 in.
Weight 15 to 35 lbs.
COLOR: Spotted, reddish, tan, or gray
TAIL: Short (5 in.) with black tip
EARS: Pointed, black tips, ear tufts

Biology

Mountain lions are mainly nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night. Deer are their favorite prey. They have also been known to prey on beaver, porcupines, rabbits, skunks, domestic livestock, pets, and other small mammals, birds, and even fish. Larger animals are usually killed by a bite to the back of the neck. Lions usually remove the viscera and eat the heart, liver, and lungs first. Uneaten portions of prey items are often cached (covered with vegetation, dirt, snow, or other debris). These food sources are generally fed upon until consumed or they spoil. Lions generally move the carcass and re-cover it after each feeding.

Male lions roam widely, females less widely, especially when the cubs are small. Adult male home ranges often encompass more than 100 square miles. Adult males use their hind feet to scrape duff into a small pile to declare their territory. These "scrapes" or "scratches" are often 6 to 18 inches long and 6 to 12 inches wide.

Dens can be found in any concealed, sheltered spot. Females generally occupy ranges from 20 to 60 square miles. Females breed first at two or three years of age, then every 18 to 20 months thereafter. Young may be born at any time of the year. Gestation period is 88 to 97 days. Litters range from one to six, generally two or three. Juvenile markings (spots) generally disappear by fifteen months.

What Should You Do If You Encounter a Mountain Lion?
Generally, mountain lions are calm, quiet and elusive. Should you happen to encounter a mountain lion, however, the following suggestions are recommended by the California Department of Fish and Game in their pamphlet "Living with California Mountain Lions":

DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Go in groups, with adults supervising children. If you happen to be hiking alone, periodically stop and look behind you. Mountain lions typically approach their prey from behind.

KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within your sight at all times.

DO NOT APPROACH A LION: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

DO NOT RUN FROM A LION: Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so they don’t panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.

DO NOT CROUCH DOWN OR BEND OVER: In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans standing nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat’s prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. If you’re in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.

DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.

FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: A hiker in southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools, and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

For more information, contact the California Department of Fish and Game at 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814; phone: (916) 653-7203.