Mountain lion sightings are rare in Pacific Palisades, but with wildlife corridors found throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, hikers should be prepared just in case they encounter one of these big cats.
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Naturalist Derek Ren took a group of visitors to Temescal Gateway Park on a hike Saturday evening to “unravel the myths surrounding the mountain lion.”
“When people think of a mountain lion, they tend to think of a scary monster,” Ren said. “They think they take livestock or that they might hurt people, but I just want to let people know that they are our neighbors here in the Santa Monica Mountains and they play an important role.”
There was a possible sighting of a mountain lion at the end of April in the Highlands community near Santa Ynez Canyon Park, and a confirmed sighting last July in Temescal Gateway Park.
“I don’t think we’re going to see one on this hike because sightings are rare, but people need to know how to stay safe and how to keep the mountain lion safe at the same time,” Ren said. “I’ve been working in these mountains for five years, and I’ve never seen a mountain lion, but I’ve seen tracks and scat so I know they’re around.”
According to Ren, if a person encounters a mountain lion, he or she should never crouch or run, but rather try to make themselves look as big as possible.
“So, if they’re wearing a jacket, they should wave it around to make themselves look even bigger,” he said. “Also, people should try to make a lot of noise.”
Experts say if the mountain lion still refuses to budge, the person should slowly back away, but waving and shouting should do the trick.
“Mountain lions are actually afraid of us and don’t want to interact with humans at all,” said Ren.
Most people think mountain lions are nocturnal, but they are actually crepuscular, which means they are more active during sunrise and sunset. They are the only big cats whose vocal chords don’t allow them to roar. Mountain lions--also known as pumas, cougars, panthers among others--have 40 different names in the English language alone.
“It’s because they have such a wide range in North America,” said Ren. “They actually hold the Guinness World Record for having the most names for an animal.”
Ren took the hikers along the river, up to Rivas Trail and to an overlook in search of mountain lions, but none were found perhaps due to the animals’ incredible sense of smell.
“They have amazing senses, so if they smell a human within a few miles they start to move away,” Ren said.
Local writer and illustrator Nina Kidd was on the hike because she is working on a book about mountain lions in conjunction with the National Park Service.
“I also just want to become more acquainted with the mountains, so I usually hike several times a week,” Kidd said. “I’ve lived in the area all my life and there is still so much to explore.”