Updated on August 15, 2023

By the Oakland Zoo
Image courtesy of Oakland Zoo, Steven Gotz

Puma, cougar, panther, catamount … mountain lions have more common names than any other animal in the world.

The last recorded count was up to 40 amongst the six different subspecies. That abundance of nicknames is primarily due to their vast geographical range (the largest of any land mammal in the Western hemisphere).

They can adapt to habitats like the desert, tropical rainforests and mountain ranges — anywhere with enough resources and stalking cover. From Canada to the southern tip of Chile, mountain lions have been impacted by many different environments and encountered many communities in the Americas.

Their adaptability has been a gift for thousands of years, providing them with the longevity to exist in many places. However, that gift has become a detriment due to increased human expansion. This puts them at risk of interactions with many more people and can lead to more cases of human-wildlife conflict. Though they are currently not listed as an endangered species, the threats they face are growing fast and can easily change their status.

mountain lion at oakland zoo

All about mountain lions

Mountain lions are reclusive and solitary, though females spend much of their adult lives caring for their offspring. Kittens stay with their mothers for up to two years. Recent studies show sibling groups and adults reported to remain in the same territories as they mature in adulthood.


Threats facing mountain lions

Mountain lions can roam about 50 miles daily in search of food, resting areas, shelter and potential mates. Like many other wild animals in California, mountain lions also face the increased threat of habitat loss, injury or death due to wildfires.

Human population and our expanding encroachment into wild spaces have increased significantly in the last century. Thus, wildlife corridors have changed and limitations to their formerly wild landscape have forced them into densely populated urban areas. Freeways have also created significant physical barriers, creating deadly and almost impossible-to-pass migratory routes. With this human encroachment and barriers to their movement, mountain lions face the danger of being killed by cars more often.


Oakland Zoo rescues mountain lion cubs

When a mother mountain lion is killed in a car strike, the cubs will likely not survive because they rely on her for food and learning survival skills. Oakland Zoo began rescuing mountain lion cubs in 2017 with three unrelated, orphaned cubs that became the zoo’s permanent residents.  All were rescued from different areas of California, and they were likely orphaned due to car strikes or depredation killing (when a mountain lion or other predator maims domestic animals).

Due to their young age and need for veterinary rehabilitation, they could not be returned to the wild. Silverado and Coloma continue to thrive at Oakland Zoo, but sadly, the third rescued lion, Toro, passed away in 2022 after developing an aggressive form of cancer.

mountain lion in rehabilitation

The Oakland Zoo has extensive experience in rescuing and rehabilitating mountain lions. Those efforts culminated in 2012 by the creation of the Bay Area Cougar Action Team, a collaborative organization including Oakland Zoo, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and mountain lion conservation groups.

In the past six years, over 20 mountain lions have been successfully saved by the Oakland Zoo, including fan favorites, Holly and Hazel. These animals were either victims of human-wildlife conflict or wildfires. The zoo provides exceptional veterinary care for wild mountain lions that are sick, injured, burned or orphaned. Also, Silverado served as a life-saving blood donor to two other rescued mountain lions in 2022.

two mountain lion cubs laying together

Holly and Hazel, rescued mountain lion cubs

In response to wildfires and car strikes, the zoo has prioritized devoting significant resources and time to ensure these animals receive the necessary care during critical times. On average, rescued mountain lions spend up to 34 days in intensive care. Once they are healthy and comfortable enough to move out of intensive care, the zoo prepares them either for release back into the wild or, in cases where release is not feasible, the zoo partners with CDFW to find suitable forever homes.

Some of the pumas that Oakland Zoo has rescued in the past, such as Captain Cal, Poppie, Goldie, Rose and Sage, serve as animal ambassadors to their counterparts in the wild, enabling the zoo to educate the public on the importance in taking action for mountain lions.

Read Rose’s story.

orphaned lion cub in california

Rose, orphaned mountain lion cub

Why mountain lions are important

Mountain lions serve as a keystone and umbrella species. They are vital in maintaining the health of their ecosystem and supporting biodiversity. Not only do they regulate the populations of prey animals and the movement of other predators, but protecting their environment indirectly affects the conservation of other species in their area. By requiring a large amount of space to be preserved — 13 times more than black bears — they protect enough space for other species to thrive.

Mountain lions are often feared due to reports of attacks on humans, but these incidents are quite rare. Encounters between humans and mountain lions are infrequent, and these animals are unlikely to attack. Studies have shown that mountain lions tend to avoid areas where humans are present, and they may even leave behind their meals if they hear or see people. While it is important to coexist safely with these adaptable and resilient animals, we must also work to reduce the pressure on them to adapt to human presence in their habitats.

mountain lion

How you can help mountain lions

Join Oakland Zoo in taking action for mountain lions.

  • NEVER feed mountain lions. Mountain lions who get used to human presence can lose their natural wariness of us. If we offer access to food even once, we end up in a situation where the animal associates humans with food.
  • DETER wild animals with outdoor lighting, motion sensors and electric fencing on your property to help stop prey animals and large cats from entering your yard. These features also make animals approaching your yard more visible to you.
  • DRIVE SAFELY and obey speed limits. Reduce your speed in wildlife areas. Be extra alert during dawn, dusk and at night.
  • Public safety issues should be REPORTED. If you live in California, you can report general sightings by submitting a Wildlife Incident Report through the CDFW’s website.
  • KEEP IT CLEAN. Please don’t litter. Human food attracts wildlife and litter from a car attracts wildlife to roadsides.
  • PROTECT and properly enclose livestock. Keep pets inside, especially between dusk and dawn.


The preservation of a steady mountain lion population drives ecological health. Protection of their habitat is crucial to the survival of other animals and flora. A culturally and ecologically significant species deserves the right to coexist with us peacefully. And with expanding mountain lion education and awareness to human populations, the long-term conservation of these cats is more than possible.

Oakland Zoo is committed to the conservation of mountain lions and to a future in which the people and pumas of the Bay Area co-exist and thrive. Learning the importance of this iconic species is the first step to building lasting conservation efforts.


To learn what other organizations helping mountain lions, check out this story from Live Wildly Foundation in Florida.

Plus, watch the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom video, “Crossing Cougar Country” to see wildlife crossings in action.

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