I have always wanted to see a mountain lion in the back country but I never have. Perhaps that is for the best, since sometimes what you wish for isn’t what you really want when presented with it. If you hike in the Gaviota area, however, there is a remote possibility of coming face to face with one.
In many ways, Gaviota, which means “seagull” in Spanish, is the perfect place for these big cats to live. The sharply canted layers of sandstone and clay hills create a unique environment. As you drive along the coast in this area you will notice the long band of rolling, grassy-green hills and the thick layers of sandstone which jut out at the top of them.
It appears at first glance as if the chaparral has been bulldozed away where the grasses now grow, creating these open hillsides, but that is not the case. It is just the peculiar way these layers have been juxtaposed. Above the sandstone are more layers of sandstone, and they are very suitable to the growth of the chaparral. But below the sandstone ridges, nearer Highway 101, the hillsides are composed of thick clays, and these are perfectly suited to grasses.
West of Gaviota State Park there are miles and miles of grassy hills, and it is this kind of country that lions seem to love. When you hike here, at every one of the trailheads you will notice signs proclaiming this to be “mountain lion country.” Is there anything to fear?
The answer is most likely no—but there have been problems in the past, and it is possible there will be again. On March 12, 1992, a Lompoc boy was badly mauled by a mountain lion, turning what was to be a pleasurable afternoon into a nightmare.
Mom and dad were hiking near Las Cruces with their boys. Darron and his twin brother were about two hundred yards ahead of their parents as they casually made their way down the trail. Suddenly a male lion, weighing about 135 pounds, charged out of the brush, knocked Darron down, and then began to drag the boy uphill into the brush.
The father’s quick thinking saved his son’s life. Grabbing a rock, he hurled it at the cat and was fortunate enough to strike it between the eyes. The mountain lion dropped the boy and took off, but it was cornered and killed by government hunters two weeks later.
There are many places in Santa Barbara County where mountain lions are present and could become a threat to you or your family. Mountain lions are unpredictable, especially given the extended drought conditions and they have been known to attack without warning. Over the past century there have been very few attack that resulted in death or serious injury but any time you enter mountain lion country, there is a potential that one could occur.
Your safety cannot be guaranteed; however, you can take precautions that may significantly reduce the danger for yourself, your companions and your family.
- Travel in groups; hiking alone increases the risk to yourself and your ability to seek help should you have an encounter.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be alert to any unusual noises or sounds.
- Keep your children or other youngsters within sight at all times.
- Use walking sticks. They not only provide an excellent walking aid but could be used to defend yourself if necessary.
If You Encounter a Mountain Lion
- DO NOT RUN! Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal.
- Hold your ground, wave your hands and shout. When possible, move slowly away from the lion while continuing to face it.
- If the lion behaves in an aggressive manner either by stalking you or coming closer, throw stones at it.
- Convince the lion that you are not prey and that you may be dangerous to it.
- Do everything you can to appear larger. If you have small children with you, place them on your shoulders if you can.
- Do not crouch down in an attempt to hide. The lion has already seen you well before you saw it.
- Continue to move slow
Report the Incident
Be sure to report to the incident as soon as possible to alert others to the situation.