For a month we visited my sister and her husband near Mount Palomar in Oak Grove, California. Our trailer was located near a hill an eighth of a mile from her house, and I often walked around or climb the hill for exercise.
In our second week, I saw footprints near our RV. Small prints from critters such as racoons, birds, rabbits, and squirrels were all around our site with larger paw-prints about thirty feet away. The geographical feature on the nearby hill that interested me was a mound of boulders that resembled the large cat enclosures at the San Diego Zoo. I mentioned that to Carol, so as we exited the trailer we playfully called out, “Here, kitty-kitty.”
Several days after a light rain, I saw some larger tracks that were probably a week old. Because of the rain, I couldn’t clearly identify the animal, but two suspects entered my mind: bear and cougar. When I asked one of the neighbors if bear were in the area, he said he never saw bear anywhere around.
When I asked if cougars were nearby, he said, “No, but we have mountain lions.”
I chuckled and explained that mountain lions, cougars, and pumas are all the same animal.
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Okay, then, we have cougars here. These hills are home to them, and one or two call this valley their home.”
Well, that was encouraging. I have to watch out for only two of these cats. When I mentioned this to my sister, she said she received a phone call several days previously stating a large mountain lion was spotted nearby.
Cougars have more names in various languages – including more than 40 English names – than any other cat. Cougar, screamer, puma, and mountain lion are the four more popular English names; and because of the Disney film Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar, I choose to call them cougars. But in Southern California they are usually called mountain lions because their tawny color resembles that of the African Lion.
Cougars are the largest native North American cat and are the fourth-largest world-wide, but they are not referred to as a large cat. Male cougars can weigh up to 220 pounds but average around 150, while the females can weigh up to 141 but average around 121. Their overall length – nose to tail – varies from five to nine feet.
I laughed when I discovered why the cougar is not considered a large cat: it can’t roar. They hiss, growl, purr, chirp and whistle. But instead of roaring, they scream! That’s why they are called screamers.
Cougars live an average of eight to ten years in the wild, and more than 20 years in captivity. Depending on food supply, the male’s territory varies from 58-380 square miles while the female’s territory varies from 30-165 square miles. With its large hind legs, this cat has been known to jump 18-feet straight up, leap 40-feet horizontally, and can sprint up to 55 miles-per-hour.
Adult cougars will kill and eat one major meal (dear, antelope, elk, etc.) every two weeks, but a mother feeding her cubs might take down a meal twice a week. If the cat can’t find a large animal, it’ll eat many smaller critters, and all small animal species are fair game – including skunks. It does not normally hunt humans, but as humanity encroaches on the cat’s territory, attacks have been recorded. But it will kill anyone or anything that comes near its cubs.
I looked up cougar paw-prints online, then went back to check the prints in the sand. They were prints of a Cougar!
Back to the foothills of Mount Palomar.
Twice in the next three weeks, I found fresh prints. The size and depth of the print suggested a 120-140-pound critter. And one morning as I exited the trailer, I saw what resembled the hind-quarters of a cougar disappearing over one of the larger boulders. I no longer called “Here, kitty-kitty” as I exited the trailer.
A number of family members gathered in my sister’s home for Bible study and discussions several evenings a week, and we usually ended them after dark. Therefore, when I walked to the trailer, I carried a light and made sufficient noise to scare away any unwanted visitors. I am not a fearful person, but I steer clear of potential danger.