Felid vs. felid: housecat encounters mountain lion

October 19, 2011 • 10:47 am

The Denver Post reports an encounter in Boulder, Colorado between a mountain lion (or “cougar”; Puma concolor) and a housecat (Felis catus; an 11-year-old Maine coon named Zeus). It was all documented in pictures by Gail Loveman, Zeus’s owner.

The interaction between the cats went on for about 5 minutes.

Zeus typically stands tall, hisses and acts fairly aggressive when he sees other animals – mostly squirrels, other house cats or even dogs – through the glass door. But Zeus remained calm as he appraised the big cat.

“I think he thought ‘Hmmm! This is different,’ ” Loveman said.

When the lion left the porch, Loveman went to an upstairs balcony and spotted a second lion, which Loveman thought was likely the mother of the first lion.

She watched and took photos as the cats wandered off, jumped a fence and disappeared.

Have a look at the 15-image slide show of the incident here, from which I’ve taken a few images:

Curiously, there was a statue of a cougar in the front yard, which the real cougar investigated.

h/t: Douglas

52 thoughts on “Felid vs. felid: housecat encounters mountain lion

    1. I will guess that it probably depends on how many mountain lion sightings the owner has. My classmate and I had an encounter with a mountain lion up in Boulder one evening after kyudo practice. We are both a bit more cautious now when leaving after class, but not quite to the point where we are carrying firearms. If the sitings were more frequent I would probably start taking my .45 to class with me.

      1. I’m not normally one to advocate carrying firearms, but if I had a cougar that was coming up onto my porch in daylight, I think I’d be very unlikely to want to go outside without a gun. That’s just scary.

        I hope animal control is able to do something before there’s a problem.

        1. The only problem is that if the cat were to attack you, you wouldn’t have any warning unless it’s a rare instance in which you spotted a cat and it was spooked and attacked or the cat was stalking you and decided to attack anyway. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to carry a sidearm, but odds are it wouldn’t help against this creature.

    2. “One has to wonder if the person owned by the cat is willing to leave their house without a shotgun.”
      You got the direction of ownership wrong.

      Looking at the pictures, it’s evident that the cat knows full-well how windows work, but the cougar doesn’t. Win for the house cat.

    1. cool to see, maybe, but somehow I doubt the little house kitty would agree.

      Cougars will readily eat housecats, btw.

  1. Of all the big cats at the Phoenix, Camille the cougar is the one I think would be the most approachable. I don’t know if that’s her own personality or more typical of the species, but the casual attitude of the adolescent would seem to be another data point in that direction.

    Of course, a friendly game of pattycake would still result not in trivial scratches but the need for stitches…better to admire them from afar….


    1. not typical of the species.

      When I lived in CA, there were mtn lion attacks on people every year, and a fatality about every 6 years or so.

      1. It would be interesting to correlate the attacks with the blood alcohol content of the victims. By far, the biggest wildlife danger in the Phoenix area is drinking in the vicinity of a rattler while in possession of a Y chromosome.

        And how many of the cats were rabid?


        1. almost all of the attacks I can recall in the last 20 years were on mountain bikers.

          not drunk, that’s for sure.

          And how many of the cats were rabid?

          I’ll have to ask my cousin Donald, who’s worked on the lions in CA for decades, but I can’t recall ever hearing of a case of a rabid puma in CA.

          1. So, a mountain bike looks like an oversized cat toy for oversized cats?

            Or, more plausibly, mountain bikers tend to go out of usual human territory more than other people, and they’re too focused on terrain obstacles to notice the arrival of other environmental menaces. But I’m mostly guessing.

            1. both, probably.

              It’s a fast-moving target (much more so than the usual walking humans they might run across), so it probably triggers multiple issues:

              -a biker, moving much faster, is more likely to surprise a mountain lion*
              -a biker, moving fast, triggers a chase response
              -mountain bikers tend to like to ride exactly where, coincidentally, mountain lions like to set up their ranges.
              -and yeah, bikers are more focused on avoiding immediate obstacles than scanning the terrain, so are likely to miss any possible warning signs.

              *this is also true where there are bears commonly about; moving quickly and quietly tends to lead to more “surprise” encounters. Bears don’t like surprises much. When I was hiking in Alaska, the first thing they taught us was to always move slowly and make lots of noise; let the bears get out of your way.

            2. You’ll be guessing and guessing badly. Even if you were out to spot these cats for a survey, I guarantee they’re not easy to spot.

              1. well, that was her point; they aren’t easy to spot under normal circumstances, let alone when you’re riding a mountain bike and focused more on your immediate surroundings.

                as an aside, my cousin told me the way they typically surveyed (when he was working with Fish and Game) is not by doing say, random transects, but instead it appears that in most areas, there are specific places where all the cats in the surrounding large area tend to move through at one point or another (natural terrain bottlenecks), and they just focus on gathering evidence on numbers from those spots. Of course, he did all those surveys in the 70s, so things might have changed since.

      2. A good look at issues surrounding the upsurge in American lion attacks, IMO, is “The Beast in the Garden,” by David Baron. (I’d give the Amazon link here but don’t know how to do so without embedding the image…)

        It takes a measured look at all sides of the controversy, from well-meaning animal lovers to entrenched bureaucratic attitudes in government wildlife agencies.

        Cougars, like many animals, can become habituated to living amongst people, and in such situations are extremely dangerous. The encounter pictured in this post mirrors the sort of incident that in the book led to ghastly encounters and a death.

        A chapter of “Nature Noir,” by Jordan Foster Smith, describes an deadly attack in California on a runner in the Sierras, including an overview of the recent rise in human/lion encounters, generally ending badly for the humans.

        Both books highly recommended.

        1. but don’t know how to do so without embedding the image

          easiest way is to use an html assist proggy, like BBCode Extra:


          then you can just copy a link (from the address box), highlight the text you want to link to, and then select:

          htmlXtra-clipboard-Make Selection URL

          and voila, you have make a standard href link.

          it saves you having to remember any code, though the href code is easy enough to use manually, should you choose that.

          1. “Easy” is relative. 😀

            But thanks much; someday (maybe) I’ll apply myself and learn something so that I can do more than just complain.

        2. Actually, I think the vast majority of human/cougar encounters end up OK for both parties, aside from increased heart rates on both sides.

          Unless, of course, you define “encounter” as actual physical contact.

          Living close to the California coastal range, I’ve heard of a number of people who have encountered cougars around their homes or out on the trail. I don’t know of a single one who hasn’t lived to tell the tale.

          And given the amount of hiking I do in the hills, I would not be surprised if I’ve been watched on more than a few occasions by a lion.

          I’m not trying to dismiss the danger–particularly from habituated lions–just trying to put it in perspective.

          1. Oh, I suspect one is still more likely to be hit by lightning! (Which is not as rare as people think…)

            It looks to me like we may well be increasing the possi/proba/bility of lion attacks, thogh, something all of us, esp. those who appreciate both wildlife and wilderness adventures need to be aware of.

            One of the more interesting, if macabre, suggestions I’ve heard is the hypothesis that in some areas ravens may have “learned” to alert lions to vulnerable humans; ravens then help themselves after the lion departs…

    2. They are wild animals and are not approachable (despite the impression people may get). It wasn’t long ago a young woman working for a zoo was killed by one of these animals. Every few years people walking in the mountains of southern California are attacked by these cats – and then of course there’s Montana (and the rest of the range of these beasts for that matter). Even if an animal appears to be friendly, that’s simply a case of silly humans imagining the animal has some sense of friendship. If you live in the same area as these cats you have to take precautions to avoid attracting them.

      1. Glad to be of service. A faithful reader of your excellent blog, I’m sure that one day I’ll write an insightful comment that’ll be more than just a correction of a trivial error :-).

    1. Doesn’t “felid” refer to a taxon higher up the tree than genus? [wikipedia] Yes, looks like Jerry can relax : “Felidae is the biological family of the cats;”
      Cross-checks ; Mammal Species of the World agrees (http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3/) ; Tree of Life () … is unusably slow. But I think it’s solid.

  2. What I want to know is what that cat was doing reading a travel book to Ireland.

    What a truly amazing encounter. I thought big cats were more wary of human habitatiions than that.


  3. In the last two photos of that 15-image slide show, you can clearly see the tall fence around the perimeter of the property – obviously not tall enough for the cougars. I’m so glad that the sliding glass door was closed!

  4. Finally a person after my own heart who wouldn’t panic and have a fit instead pick up a camera and record the whole thing.

    Thanks for sharing

  5. As an avid hiker, I have a far greater fear of mountain lions then bears. Bears are usually far more afraid of people. Cats, well if they think you are snack size, they will stalk you. Scary.

    But the one looking in the window sure is cute!

  6. Mountain lions are pretty much the closest thing we have to Velociraptors in North America. I always expect to be stalked and killed when I’m in the woods, especially if I screw up and find myself in the woods at night.

    But what a way to go.

  7. IMO Best reader comment in The Denver Post is by Gr8ful Dude:

    Ours is “Conmeo”, which is Vietnamese for “Cat”. We wanted him to be raised bilingual. 😛

    [BTW I think that should be “Con mèo” which I think means “with meow” or just “mèo” maybe ~ so Gr8ful Dude’s cat isn’t off to a linguistic flying start]

    1. LOL!

      Reminds me of my first-year Russian instructor. After going over “Da” for “yes,” he then joked that it’s been said that Russian babies are born already speaking.

      To which a classmate replied, “then American babies are born already speaking a foreign language.”

      1. Nice one. I will use that some day – and having forgotten I’d read it, consider myself an excellently witty chap.

    1. Yeah, I noticed that the cougar was displaying hostility. You’d think Zeus would be the one all puffed up and hissy-fitted.

  8. Some folks say that if you have hiked 10 times in the Colorado mountains, you have been stalked at least once by a mountain lion. We have had all types of wildlife in our Boulder back yard, from fox to deer to bear to elk. Lions have been seen in town but we await our first sighting!

  9. Heck, this afternoon, you could go for a walk in Ohio and be tracked by lions, tigers, and wolves! Really sad that all the animals had to be shot. 18 rare Bengal tigers…what a loss.

    1. “Really sad that all the animals had to be shot. 18 rare Bengal tigers…what a loss.”

      Huh? Some zoo shut down and shot the stock?

  10. I love the statue of a mountain lion in the garden. You get the sense that the young one thought he had a buddy who had come to assist him in checking out their little cousin in the window. What a magnificent animal. It saddens me to know how many are killed each year just for being themselves …

    1. You Americans are mad with guns to shoot at everything. We were shocked on a visit to Alaska (from Australia)that people shoot at most wildlife – bears – moose – elk etc. 7 billion (and growing)people in the World and no wildlife! Crazy – learn to live with animals – fear humans!

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