Our knowledge of mountain lions in Yellowstone is really just being developed. The first study of lion ecology in the park began in 1987. In the early days of Yellowstone, as with most of the west, mountain lions were subject to predator control policies.
Researchers estimate that up to 24 mountain lions live here and that number is increasing. There are now four collared mountain lions in Yellowstone.
Female lions weigh around 100 lbs and have a life span of 14 years, while the 160 lb males only live about 10 years. By the time they are 1 ½ years old, most males move as far as 400 miles from where they were born. The females disperse around 150 miles.
Cats are very territorial. Males, or toms, have home ranges of 150 square miles that overlap with several females. Other toms could be killed if they are caught trespassing into a larger males range.
Mountain lions can mate at any time of year, but in Yellowstone, most mate in winter or early spring. After a 92 day gestation, 2 or 3 one pound kittens are born in dens.
Elk and mule deer are the main sources of food for mountain lions. After a kill, carcasses are buried or cached. It takes nearly 4 days to consume one of those large ungulates. On average, lions go 9 ½ days between kills.
Confrontations with mountain lions are rare in Yellowstone. If you do encounter one, get your group to stay together and carry any small children. It is best to act dominant. Stare directly are the cat, and show your teeth.
For me, one of the best things about wilderness areas is that physically we are not the top of the food chain. We must see better, hear better, and smell better. Yellowstone’s wilderness is dangerous, but the rewards are priceless.