Cats! Wild to Mild - San Diego Natural History Museum

Our Wild Neighbors

Bobcat (Lynx rufus) licking its paw (San Diego Zoo) Bobcats and Mountain Lions live here, in San Diego County. Wherever you find plenty of deer, you can expect to find Mountain Lions. Mountain Lions are predators at the top of the food chain. Bobcats eat smaller fare: rabbits, squirrels, reptiles, birds. Bobcats are near the top of the food chain, but Mountain Lions sometimes eat them. Both require plenty of space to find enough prey. A healthy ecosystem supports healthy predators.

Mountain Lions and Bobcats spend most of their time alone. Their population density is low, and solitary cats hunt alone. They spend only a few days with a mate, and single moms raise kittens. By and large, our local wild cats are loners.

People are pushing into wild cat habitat, and encounters with cats are becoming more frequent. Cats are hunters; awareness of their behavior will help prevent unhappy endings. Rugged terrain with woods or rocks are prime Mountain Lion habitat. Expert at stealth, Mountain Lions search for prey while hidden in the forest or along the edge of clearings. They stalk silently, then execute a surprise attack. They are most active at sunrise and sunset, but will hunt day or night.

Cougar (Felis concolor) The best way to avoid a backcountry big-cat attack is to go with a companion. Always supervise small children. If you meet a Mountain Lion, make yourself appear as large as possible and fight back. Do not play dead (as advised in bear country), do not bend over (you look more like prey), do not turn your back, and do not run away -- cats' instinctive behavior is to pounce. If you have something in your hand, take aim and throw. Bobcats pose no threat to people; they are shy, mostly nocturnal, and small. Pets, however, should be kept indoors.

Mountain Lions and Bobcats prey upon livestock on occasion. Changes in animal-husbandry techniques are usually more effective than killing the wild cat. When a resident cat is killed, it creates a vacancy that will be filled by another cat looking for a home range. Wildlife Services (formerly the California Department of Fish & Game) advises ranchers on possible non-lethal solutions.

The greatest threat to wild cats everywhere is habitat loss and fragmentation. Cats need a large, contiguous range for adequate prey and successful reproduction. The Multiple Species Conservation Plan adopted by the City and County of San Diego is an effort to aquire and maintain wild areas that are connected by wildlife corridors. A continuous range is the only way to preserve viable populations.

Bobcat, photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo
Cougar, photo by Kenneth L. Fink, SDNHM photo archive

Cats! | Exhibits