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My luck with the two prominent wild cats of the Americas is good and bad. I have had pretty good luck seeing bobcats. They survive in many different environments; from British Columbia south to central Mexico and east to the Atlantic and I've seen them throughout their range, including the Marin Headlands. Their northward range is limited by deep snow and the presence of the larger Canada Lynx, which regularly kill bobcats especially in times of prey shortage. And in spite of being heavily trapped and persecuted by humans and much habitat lost, bobcats are thriving even in the suburbs. There may be over 1 million in the United States. Here in the Bay area they mostly feed on rodents, rabbits, reptiles and birds. They occasionally will kill black tailed deer, especially fawns.

Mountain lions on the other hand have eluded me. In spite of countless hours in the great outdoors, I have only seen one in my entire life and that was an elusive glimpse. I've seen plenty of tracks and scat but not the cat. Mountain lions have three claims to fame. First, they have the greatest north-south range of any land mammal in the world, from British Columbia all the way to southern Chile, frequenting a wide range of habitats from the rain forests to the Patagonian steppe desert.

They have greatest number of common names of any mammal -- cougar, panther, puma, catamount and painter are a few of the English names. And they have several dozen Native American names from the various tribes in the Western Hemisphere. Finally, cougars have been found at higher elevation than any other cat. One was seen at 19,000 feet in the Andes.

But no matter where I go they don't find me. In 1991 California banned hunting of mountain lions, although some states like Idaho, as we have recently seen, still permit it.  The population has steadily increased and though attacks on humans continue to be extremely rare, the increase in both human and cat population has increased the encounters. Just not with me.

Too bad.


With a Perspective, I'm Michael Ellis.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.