Recently, there was a news article where the author reported an increase from 4 to 11 mountain lion sightings in San Mateo County (California) during the first three months of this year. While the story was fairly balanced and not actually "anti-lion," in nature, it was unfortunately the type of account which can also be considered inciting, with its suggestion in the title that the increase in sightings "could portend a potential problem."
The problem with this assumption is that mountain lion sightings are tricky things.
First, the number of sightings should never be misconstrued as being the actual number of lions residing within a state or region. A single mountain lion has the potential of being seen multiple times as it travels throughout its territory of 100-plus square miles.
Second, the number of sightings should never be considered to be an accurate accounting of lion activity. Studies in the past have found that close to 80 percent of all mountain lion reports are actually sightings of dogs, cats, other wildlife, hoaxes, even (as noted by one CDFG Biologist) concrete lawn statues.
Third, mountain lion sightings have a tendency to increase in number following news stories of attacks or threats towards humans. This trend begs the unanswered question--is the increase due to more people actually reporting their lion sighting to authorities, or is it because some people are inspired by the news stories to mistakenly think they have seen a lion.
Forth, actual mountain lion sightings should never be considered as evidence of anything more than what they are--somebody was lucky enough to see a mountain lion. Too many lawmakers try to use lion sightings as evidence of out of control lion populations and (as is the case in Oregon) use those numbers to justify increasing the number of lions the hunting lobby wants to kill.
Twenty years ago this June, California voters passed Proposition 117--the Mountain Lion Initiative
--thereby making it the only western state with a viable mountain lion population where the creatures are not hunted for sport. A living social experiment, California combines America's largest mountain lion population (6,000) with the nation's greatest number of human residents (36 million). Yet despite this potentially explosive mix, confirmed sightings of mountain lions remain extremely small, and rarely equate into anything more than a report of a truly magnificent creature living its life peacefully alongside mankind.