Arizona's Kofa Wildlife Refuge


Between 1917 and 2014, at least 19,499 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Arizona, with almost 60 percent of these deaths occurring since mountain lions were classified as game animals in 1970. We estimate that Arizona has approximately 1,750 mountain lions, with one-third of these younger than three-years of age.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (ADFGD) uses "Open Hunting", which allows the killing of an unlimited numbers of mountain lions of either sex during the legal hunting season.

SUMMARY: Cougars in the State of Arizona

Cougar Habitat and Population in Arizona

The state of Arizona encompasses 113,635 square miles (294,313 km2) of land. The main portion of Arizona's best mountain lion habitat is distributed in a wide diagonal band stretching diagonally across the state. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has the authority for managing mountain lions over 72,157 square miles (186,885 km2) of mountain lion habitat covering almost 63 percent of the state. Additionally, an unknown amount of mountain lion habitat falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (4,200 sq mi. or 10,877 km2), or is located on tribal lands (29,500 sq. mi or 76,404 km2). Data on mountain lion population estimates, suitable habitat, and human-caused mountain lion mortalities for these 33,700 square miles is unavailable to MLF at this time.

In 2003, AZGFD estimated that there were approximately 1,000 to 2,500 mountain lions on their lands. At that time, wildlife biologist D. J. Schubert conducted an in-depth analysis of AZGFD's management policies and mortality data and concluded that their mountain lion population estimates were suspect because:

  1. projections of suitable mountain lion habitat are not based on defensible biological information;
  2. projections are subjectively determined by regional personnel;
  3. projections can be (and reportedly have been) altered to increase population estimates;
  4. projections assume that mountain lion habitat is saturated to its highest biological level; and
  5. projections rely on estimates of mountain lion densities that are higher than the reported literature.

So far (2012), AZGFD has not yet addressed Dr. Schubert's concerns. In a strategic planning report AZGFD describes the state's mountain lion population as "robust" and estimated the animal's population level to be between 2,500 to 3,000. AZGFD explains the population increase as the result of an abundance of deer and discounts other lion population estimates as being too conservative.

At this time, the Mountain Lion Foundation mistrusts the "official" estimate, and believes the supposed increase to be an artificial construct designed to accommodate higher lion hunting quotas. Until an acceptable, peer-reviewed study of Arizona's lion population is produced to change our opinion, MLF estimates that state's lion population to be approximately 1,750 animals. Of this number, an estimated 1/3rd consists of kittens and subadults younger than three-years old.

Arizona currently uses what AZGFD calls Open Hunting to manage the state's mountain lion population. "Open hunting" allows the killing of an unlimited numbers of mountain lions of either sex in areas delimited only by hunter choice during the legal hunting season. Arizona is also one of only a few states to still allow (dangerous) hunting of lions at night.

History of Mountain Lion Management in Arizona

In 1919, mountain lions in Arizona were classified as a "predatory animal" by the territorial legislature and a bounty of $50 was paid for each one killed. While Arizona reclassified mountain lions as "big game" animals in 1970, the bounty law remained on the books as a non-funded program until its repeal in 1990. During the 51 years Arizona's mountain lion bounty was in effect, 7,723 mountain lions were killed and turned in to the government for the bounty.

At the same time that lions were listed as big game animals, the Arizona legislature revised Statue 17-302 to allow the killing of mountain lions for depredation purposes. In 1990, the state's depredation policy changed to require that there be an actual loss of livestock prior to lethal removal of mountain lions.

In the year 2000, Arizona Game and Fish Department established a wildlife predation management policy, which in part called for the killing of individual mountain lions or the suppression of resident mountain lion populations where ungulate numbers (deer, elk, big horn sheep, etc.) are considered to be below AZGFD management goals, or when conducting transplants of species such as bighorn sheep and pronghorn. According to this policy, the Department can increase the number of lions killed by hunters or trappers, or authorize department personnel and other individuals to kill mountain lions to achieve these policy ends. For several years now AZGFD has consistently increased quotas and bag limits in several of their Game Management Units (GMUs) in an effort to reduce the resident population of mountain lions, citing concern about the health and well being of bighorn sheep and mule deer populations.

In its 2001 Strategic Plan, AZGFD stated that the goals of its mountain lion management strategy were to "manage the mountain lion population, its numbers and distribution as an important part of Arizona's fauna [and to] provide mountain lion hunting (including hunting with dogs) and other related recreational opportunities." The department's stated objectives are to:

  1. "maintain an annual harvest of between 250 to 300 mountain lions (including depredation takes),
  2. provide recreational opportunities for 3,000 to 6,000 sport hunters per year; and
  3. maintain existing occupied habitat, and maintain the present range of mountain lions in Arizona."

In 2003, Arizona Game and Fish Department, in accordance with its wildlife predation management policy, proposed intensive mountain lion removal projects in several western Game Management Units in conjunction with their bighorn sheep relocation program. Arizona currently (2012) has a year-round trophy hunting season on mountain lions, as well as predator "contest shoots," in which prizes are given for shooting as many coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions as possible.

Currently (2012), AZGFD's mountain lion management policy remains relatively the same as that stated in its 2001 Strategic Plan.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Arizona

Between 1917 and 2014, at least 19,499 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Arizona, with almost 60 percent of these deaths occurring since mountain lions were classified as game animals in 1970. This fact is reflected in a 2009 AZGFD report which noted that the sale of mountain lion hunting tags had "annually increased from about 3,000 in 1990 to nearly 11,000 by 2007."

However this claim of an ever increasing constituency of lion hunters was repudiated in 2011 when AZGFD personnel attending the 2011 Mountain Lion Workshop (a national conference for state game agency personnel) voiced dissatisfaction over the declining number of mountain lion hunters. According to them, to offset this reduction, the agency was beginning to offer lion tags in multiple hunt license "combo" packages to interest the incidental deer or elk hunter that accidently came across a lion. Without the public (trophy hunters) to help AZGFD meet their management objective of killing off between 250 to 300 hundred lion each year, the representative indicated that there would need to be more administrative removal programs and eventually the Department may be forced to return to "the dark ages" and employ the public's help to "balance wildlife populations" — implying a bounty program that would pay residents for their assistance in slaughtering mountain lions.

Frustration was also voiced by AZGDF personnel over the killing of bighorn sheep (a lion's natural prey species) on the KofA (King of Arizona Mine) National Wildlife Refuge by the refuge's resident mountain lions. Bighorn sheep (a highly valued trophy animal) raised at the refuge are raffled off to big game hunters for special hunts, and are also used to reestablish herds throughout the west. Being a money-making game species, the Department wanted to preemptively kill lions living on the refuge to provide a "safe haven" for those sheep. Due to public outcry this plan was scrapped in favor of lethally removing any lion that kills more than one of the refuge's bighorn sheep over a six-month period.

Arizona Female Lion Mortalities

Along with most states where the hunting of mountain lions takes place, Arizona makes a token attempt to protect the state's female lions. Arizona's current hunting regulations restrict the killing of females with kittens. But AZGFD is also considering targeting female lions for eradication in areas which include large scale livestock operations, and its "Open Hunting" harvest management approach limits the effectiveness of their "mother with kittens" restrictions because most lion hunters can't determine a lion's sex even after it has been killed, much less ascertain whether the animal seen from a distance is a lactating female with kittens hidden back in a den.

In 2003, the Arizona Game and Fish Department provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion sport hunting harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this 4-year period 48 percent (541) of the total sport hunting mortalities were female mountain lions. A similar review took place for the years 2004 through 2007 where the percentage of females killed remained at 48 percent.

According to one major study (Anderson and Lindzey 2005), when adult females consistently comprise greater than 35 percent of the overall harvest, resident mountain lion abundance may be reduced. While noting this study in their 2009 Conservations Strategies Report, AZGFD ignores the study's ramifications and denies any reduction in the state's lion population. AZGFD insists their opinion of an increasing lion population justifies the need to increase overall mortality levels by whatever means.

Human/Lion Conflicts in Arizona

Arizona's human population is expected to double to about 12 million by the year 2050, and the state's urban areas will continue to expand into and overlap with mountain lion habitat. A Mountain Lion Action Plan was developed in 2004 to address the issue of human/lion conflicts and provide response guidance for AZGFD field personnel. The plan categorizes conflicts as sighting, encounter, incident, or attack based on acceptable or unacceptable behaviors by mountain lions. Department responses are guided by the action plan for each category. Reports of all lion/human conflicts are entered into a centralized Human-Wildlife Interaction Database.

Public Opinion about Lions in Arizona

In the 2005 Attitudes Toward Urban Wildlife Among Residents of Phoenix and Tucson survey, residents were asked whether or not mountain lions are "dangerous:" 44 percent agreed and 44 percent disagreed. Of those respondents, only 21 percent think that mountain lions are a threat to personal safety, while 72 percent believe they are not a threat. In the survey, 80 percent of the public accepted destroying a mountain lion that is a "threat to human safety" or is an "established threat to pets and livestock." According to Arizona residents in the survey, 33 percent think the mountain lion population is declining, 15 percent think mountain lions are endangered, 1 percent think they are extinct, and only 19 percent think the population is stable.

When asked about controlling mountain lions, 65 percent of the public found it acceptable "to protect endangered or threatened wildlife" and 55 percent found it acceptable "to protect wildlife populations that are declining." However, less than 50 percent found it acceptable "to increase numbers of big game animals."

Arizona's Killing Fields

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Arizona averages 0.45 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The eleven western state average is 0.65. Using MLF's mortality ranking system, Arizona ranks 8th amongst the 11 western states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

A review of average annual mountain lion mortality numbers at the Game Management Unit (GMU) level clearly defines Arizona's diagonal band of habitat with the highest concentration of mountain lion kills located in the southeastern quarter of the state. Game Management Units 27, 28, 31, and 32 in particular stand out with their disproportionate annual average mountain lion mortality numbers. An analysis of these GMUs from 1997 to 2001 shows a higher proportion of depredation related lion mortalities than experienced elsewhere in the state. This coupled with sport hunting kills raised the annual average mountain lion mortality numbers to levels not seen elsewhere within the state.

Using MLF's mortality ranking system, the top five Game Management Units in Arizona where human-caused mountain lion mortalities were greatest were numbers 27, 31, 32, 17 and 21. From 1997 to 2001, these GMUs accounted for 485 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these GMUs were responsible for 29 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 9 percent of Arizona Game and Fish Department's mountain lion habitat.

Game Management Unit -27 is ranked as Arizona's number one killing field of mountain lions with an average mortality density rating of 1.8--almost twice the study average. From 1997 to 2001, GMU-27 averaged 25 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 7 percent of all the state's human-caused mountain lion mortalities during that time period.

Mountain Lion Research in Arizona

Arizona Urban Mountain Lion Study

In this north-central Arizona study, AZGFD investigated the distribution, movement, and survival of mountain lions within a 1,200 km2 area of land near the community of Payson, and within a 4,600 km2 area of land near the community of Prescott during 2006 and 2007. The objective of the study was to determine distribution and movements of mountain lions in these hunted populations within residential-urbanized and wildland areas. Additionally AZGFD wanted basic insights into the following questions on how mountain lions use residential-urbanized areas:

  1. Do lions enter them frequently?
  2. Do lions explore these areas briefly, and then leave?
  3. Do lions just move through them?
  4. Do lions use these areas as part of their normal habitats?

As part of the study, 18 mountain lions (5 females, 13 males) were captured and fitted with a GPS telemetry collar equipped with a pre-programmed timed-release mechanism and mortality-sensing option, allowing the collars to be retrieved. Study animals were then immediately released. Marked animals were located continually by ground telemetry, with GPS fix location data uploaded from a fixed-wing aircraft one or two times per month. Five of the study lions (2 female, 3 male) occupied only wildland habitat. Twelve of the study lions (2 female, 10 male) associated with residential-urbanized areas.

According to this study, individual mountain lions seem to be highly variable in their use of residential-urbanized areas. Mountain lions entered some residential-urbanized areas frequently, explored some briefly and left, simply moved through some, and used others as part of their normal habitats. However one fact became quite apparent. Despite extensive or occasional use of residential-urbanized habitats by marked mountain lions, local human residents seldom reported encounters or sightings, except when a lion was killed by hunters or a vehicle.

Arizona's Mountain Lions and Other Wildlife

Of all the large felids, mountain lions kill the largest prey relative to their own body mass. Mountain lions are obligate carnivores with diverse diets and ungulates (primarily deer) comprise nearly 70 percent of that diet in North America. Mountain lion-prey relationships are complex and likely involve interactions between abiotic and biotic variables that can be difficult to quantify.

Currently in Arizona, mountain lions are managed to minimize adverse impacts on other wildlife species—specifically "Big Game" species such as bighorn sheep. This is accomplished through the Arizona Game and Fish Commission Predation Management Policy, which states: "Actions by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (department) should be based on the best available scientific information. Mountain lions and coyotes will be managed to ensure their future ecological, intrinsic, scientific, educational, and recreational values, to minimize conflict with humans, and to minimize adverse impacts on other wildlife populations."

There are currently two predator management plans (Black Mountains and KofA National Wildlife Refuge) that address mountain lion removals for adverse impacts on other wildlife populations. The Black Mountain Plan uses a desert bighorn sheep survey rate as a management trigger for removal of mountain lions while the KofA Plan uses an offending lion definition of more than one desert bighorn sheep killed by a mountain lion in a six month period. Lethal removals are made by contracted lion hunter/trappers.

Mountain Lions Killed for Depredation in Arizona

Predator control efforts in Arizona between 1919 and 1969, when the state legislature offered a bounty on mountain lions, resulted in the deaths of 7,723 lions. In 1970, mountain lions were classified as big game animals, and the regulated killing of mountain lions for preying on livestock began in 1971. The killing of mountain lions involved in livestock depredation is now authorized in Arizona through Title 17 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (2007), subsection 17-302.

As a result, approximately 30 lions are killed in Arizona each year under what AZGFD refers to as "depredation harvests." The overwhelming number of these mortalities (90 percent) are a result of cattle predation, and 98 percent of those deaths involved calves.

Depredation of cattle by mountain lions occurs in 11 western states, but the highest reported number of incidents are in Arizona where about 850 livestock operators presently graze about 56,000 cattle on public lands. Predation of cattle by mountain lions primarily takes place in 12 of Arizona's 15 counties, with 5 counties (Mohave [6.3 percent], Gila [7.7 percent], Graham [47.6 percent], Greenlee [24.2 percent], and Yavapai [6.5 percent]), accounting for 92 percent of all depredation kills (1976 - 2005). These five counties extend from northwestern to southeastern Arizona, and encompass an estimated area of about 85,160 km2, or about 28.9 percent of the area of Arizona and 35 percent of state's mountain lion habitat. Vegetation types and topography within these five counties probably increase the likelihood that livestock will suffer from mountain lion predation. Further, the elevations are relatively low, temperatures are moderate, and the habitat found in these counties is conducive to year-long stocking of cow-calf livestock operations.

A review of 30 years (1976-2005) of lion depredation harvest statistics by AZGFD came up with some interesting conclusions and possibly points the way to reducing this form of human/lion conflict throughout the west.

  1. The highest predation of cattle by mountain lions corresponds with the period of seasonal production of calves in free-ranging herds (between January and June).
  2. Depredation of cattle by mountain lions is often higher if free ranging cow-calf herds are grazed in areas of rugged terrain and dense vegetation cover, and if abundance of prey (deer) other than cattle is comparatively low.
  3. Killing depredating mountain lions provides only a short-term solution for preventing or reducing losses of cattle.
  4. Reducing livestock depredation primarily requires a modification of present husbandry practices such as:
  • Avoiding the placement of livestock within good mountain lion habitat when calves are present.
  • Changing the type and age of livestock (e.g., switching to adult cattle, avoiding calves).
  • Improving habitat and encouraging healthy wildlife communities, including deer, on ranges grazed by livestock.

Last Update: November 2015

ON AIR: Ashwin Naidu on Forensics and Genetics

11/21/10 An Audio Interview with Craig Fergus, MLF Volunteer

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, volunteer Craig Fergus interviews geneticist Ashwin Naidu about his work studying mountain lions and their diet in southwestern Arizona via non-invasive genetic techniques.


In Arizona's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as a game mammal, along with deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison, peccary, tree squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. The species is also classified as big game, along with wild turkey, deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison, peccary, and bear.

Rather than directly protecting animals, Arizona's endangered species law merely creates a fund that is to be spent in preservation of threatened habitats.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Arizona is governed by the Arizona Revised Statutes - the state's collection of its laws, updated at the end of each legislative cycle. Arizona also collects its department regulations in the Arizona Administrative Code. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current laws and regulations for the State of Arizona.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Arizona state legislature is a bicameral legislature consisting of a lower chamber - the House of Representatives - and an upper chamber - the Senate. The House of Representatives is made up of 60 members, and the Senate is made up of 30 members. Members of both chambers serve 2-year terms and are limited to four consecutive terms. If you do not know in which legislative district you live, Arizona maintains this website to help you find your district. If you already know in which district you live, you can contact your legislator by using the House of Representatives' membership roster and the Senate's membership roster.

The legislature meets annually with the session beginning on the second Monday of January and normally running until late June. The governor may call special sessions when he/she feels it necessary. During special sessions, the legislature may only pass laws related to the subject for which the governor has called the session.

State Regulation

Arizona's wildlife regulations can be found in Chapter 4 of the Natural Resources section of the Arizona Administrative Code. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission sets the regulations found in that chapter.

Arizona Game and Fish Commission

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor. Members serve five-year terms, which expire on the third Monday in January of their final year. No two members may be residents of the same county, and no more than three members may belong to the same political party. The commission sets Arizona's regulations for managing wildlife and fisheries. It also regulates watercraft and off-highway vehicle use.

Arizona Game and Fish Department

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) enforces the state's wildlife laws and the Game and Fish Commission's regulations. The AZGFD is a stand-alone department within the executive branch of the Arizona state government.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department reviews, revises, and reports on mountain lion conservation strategies when the Game and Fish Commission directs it to do so. As of 2014, the latest report appears to be the 2009 Mountain Lion and Bear Conservation Strategies Report. The report was written by "wildlife scientists and managers," two of whom were not employed by the AZGFD. The commission takes no action on the report itself but can implement its recommendations in future public sessions. There do not appear to be written guidelines as to when a new report is to be issued.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Arizona. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 76 units. AZGFD's hunting regulations booklet states that mountain lion season runs from July 1 to June 30.

Hound hunting is allowed.

Arizona allows the hunting of mountain lions with centerfire rifles, muzzleloading rifles, all rifles using black powder or synthetic black powder, centerfire handguns, handguns using black powder or synthetic black powder, shotguns using slugs or shot, bows with a standard pull of 30 or more pounds, and crossbows with a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds. Arizona also allows hunting with the assistance of artificial light as long as the light is not attached to or operated from a motor vehicle, motorized watercraft, watercraft under sail, or floating object towed by a motorized watercraft or a watercraft under sail.

Arizona prohibits hunting spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens. However, Arizona does not appear to set season limits for mountain lion harvest. Hunters are allowed to take one mountain lion per year except in units with a "multiple bag limit." In units with a multiple bag limit, hunters may take one mountain lion per day until the multiple bag limit is reached. Once the multiple bag limit has been reached, the season remains open and reverts to the calendar year bag limit of one mountain lion.

Public Safety Law

Arizona law allows any person to kill wildlife "in self-defense or in defense of another person if it is immediately necessary to protect oneself or to protect the other person." That person must notify the Arizona Game and Fish Department within five days. No portion of the animal may be retained sold, or removed from the site without permission from the AZGFD.

Depredation Law

Depredation law in Arizona is monitored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The law specifies that a landowner or lessee whose livestock has been attacked by a mountain lion may dispatch of the depredating lion with leg hold traps without teeth, leg snares, firearms, and "other legal hunting weapons and devices." After beginning to pursue a mountain lion, a livestock operator must notify the AZGFD within five days. The AZGFD may request that the livestock operator provide them with reasonable evidence that the livestock was attacked by a mountain lion. After killing a lion, the operator may not keep any portion of the carcass without permission from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. The law also states that no lion taken alive may be kept in captivity.

Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take any specified steps to protect their pets or livestock. There also does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.


Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Arizona. The laws governing trapping in Arizona specify that licensed trappers may trap predatory, nongame, and fur-bearing species. Arizona classifies mountain lions as game mammals and does not include them on its list of either predatory or fur-bearing species.


Poaching law in the State of Arizona provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Anyone who takes a mountain lion during a closed season, in an area closed to mountain lion hunting, through the use of an unlawful device or method, in excess of the bag limit, or possesses or transports a mountain lion or parts of a mountain lion that was unlawfully taken is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. A class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 4 months of imprisonment. Anyone who knowingly takes a mountain lion during a closed season or who knowingly possesses, transports, or buys any big game that was unlawfully taken during a closed season is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 6 months of imprisonment. Finally, any person who barters, sells, or offers for sale any mountain lion or a part of a mountain lion taken unlawfully is guilty of a class 6 felony. The duration of imprisonment for a felony is determined by the court. In addition to the criminal proceedings, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission or any of its officers may bring a civil lawsuit against the poacher, seeking a minimum of $1,500 in damages per lion.

Road Mortalities

The Arizona Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.

Last Update: April 24, 2014



Mountain lion research has occurred in all regions of the state (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and Central Arizona). Mountain lion research has taken place in rugged mountain terrain, in the Lower Sonoran Desert, short grass prairies, and Riparian areas, semi-desert grassland, Arizona upland desert scrub, woodlands, chaparral, conifer forests and even the Lower Colorado River Valley (arid region).

Researchers have studied mountain lions on over 30 mountain ranges in Arizona, with most research occurring in the Southwest and Southeast parts of the state. In the Southeast, the Aravaipa-Klondyke area, Saguaro National Park (Tucson Mountain District) and surrounding mountain ranges such as; the Galiuro Mountains, Catalina Mountains, Peloncillo Mountains, Silver Bells Mountains, Eastern Pi?aleno Mountains and the Santa Teresa Mountain Complex have all been study sites of Mountain lion research. In the Southwest region of the state various mountain ranges including both the Harcuvar and Harquahala Mountains, Kofa, and Castle Dome Mountains, Gila Bend, Granite Wash, Sauceda, Black, and Buckskin Mountains, Agua Dulce, Cabeza Prieta, Chocolate and Eagletail Mountains have all been study sites of Mountain lion research in Southwestern Arizona.

Mountain lion research has also taken place near urban areas of Payson, Prescott, and Tucson (near Saguaro National Park). Other notable study locations are Grand Canyon National Park and Colorado Plateau in the Northeast region of Arizona, Mazatzal Mountains and Coconino National Forest in Central Arizona, Virgin Mountains and Grand Wash Cliffs in the Northwest region of the state. Over 50 mountain lions have been captured and fitted with radiocollars for research purposes in both the Aravaipa-Klondyke study area (4,035km study area) as well as near Payson and Prescott Arizona (5,800km study areas). Three radiocollared mountain lions died due to capture during a study at the Aravaipa-Klondyke study area while researchers were trying to determine sources of mortality of mountain lions in southeastern Arizona.

Though much of Arizona is arid and composed of desert shrub, a moderate percentage of the state can be considered suitable mountain lion habitat. Anywhere there is vegetation cover near rugged terrain (i.e. Canyons, mountains) as well as Riparian habitat, mountain lions can be found. The Central portion of the state is mostly forest, in fact, roughly 27% of the state is composed of forest landscapes. Even in the Lower Sonoran Desert in southwestern Arizona, research has found the presence of mountain lions in this region.


Most of the early research on Mountain lions in Arizona was centered around desert bighorn sheep and analyzing the factors affecting bighorn sheep. Mountain lions have been determined as a major predator of desert bighorn sheep in regions in Arizona, especially in areas where mule deer are scarce. In the 1980's research showed that mountain lions are carriers of Trichinosis, which can be spread to other species, especially hunting dogs.

The effect of hunting and depredation control was studied on mountain lion populations in southeastern Arizona in the 1990's. Researchers found that the survival rates of mountain lions, in areas where depredation and hunting are means of control, were lowest among other states where sport hunting was allowed (around 0.55 or 55% survival rate). Radiocollar research has taken place in the 1990's in the Aravaipa-Klondyke study area and most recently 2009. Mountain lions were fitted with radiocollars in order to determine their use of habitat and urban areas as well as determine individual home ranges.

More recent research is using noninvasive techniques to study mountain lions, such as: Scat analyses for diet composition and obtaining genetic information, and using track surveys to determine presence of mountain lions as well as monitor changes in population density. Current research is focusing on ways to decrease the frequency of unwanted mountain lion-human interactions, this has become increasingly important due to urban growth and habitat loss.


What we now understand about Mountain lions is that hunting and depredation are major factors attributing to some mountain lion populations showing low survival rates, in Arizona. Researchers are fairly certain that hunting pressure can also be responsible for mountain lions taking refuge in state parks and wildlife refuges. This has led to increasing number of sightings of mountain lions by people as well as an increase in mountain lion-human interactions.

We know that mountain lions predominantly prey on mule deer, followed by cattle in some areas (calves). We also now know that mountain lion predation has thwarted efforts to establish translocated desert bighorn sheep in certain regions of the state. Researchers attribute these findings to a most recently decreasing mule deer population in Arizona.

Thanks to research published in 2009 we now have a better understanding of why mountain lions cache their kill; it is likely mountain lions exhibit this behavior in order to mask the scent of their kill from other vertebrates, as well as keep the meat from spoiling quickly, especially in hot and dry conditions. Disease is another factor affecting various mountain lion populations especially trichinosis which could be attributed to mountain lions raw meat diets. This raises concern especially with a very mobile species like mountain lions, which could easily spread the disease within and between populations.

Perhaps the greatest challenges facing mountain lion populations today is habitat fragmentation and loss which has also attributed to potential inbreeding depression in some mountain lion populations. Public opinion surveys conducted in the Tucson Mountain District, near Saguaro National Park in 2005, shows that majority of people are for protecting mountain lions and mountain lion habitat unless an individual lion becomes a threat to the public. Most people also believe that trapping or shooting a threatening mountain lion is and should be acceptable. Wildlife agencies and residents of Tucson also feel that more research should be done to better understand the species biology and habitat needs.

Research Priorities

What we still need to know about mountain lions in Arizona is the type of intra-species interactions occurring in populations, such as: infanticide (killing of juvenile young), male competition, etc. More research attention needs to be focused on an ecosystem level rather than on an individual species level. There has been little to no research analyzing the effects of climate change on mountain lions and the species they depend on. The overall health of the ecosystems in which mountain lions live is vital as well. It could help explain trends in mountain lion density (healthier ecosystem= more lions, unhealthy ecosystem= less lions).

Research Summaries by Project

Activity Patterns, Movements, and Diet of Mountain Lions in a Highly Urbanized Environment (REPORT) (2002)

Author(s): Anne L. Casey

Project Summary:
This project had three research goals: (1) To gather and summarize existing information on Mountain lion observations in Tucson and surrounding mountainous areas, (2) To assess the information needs of wildlife managers, managing for Mountain lions, and (3) to assess local citizens knowledge, attitudes and opinions towards Mountain lions, Mountain lion management, and the possibility of future research. Using locations of Mountain lion sighting reports researchers conducted a telephone survey to gather this information and their preliminary results show that overall, the public is supportive of future Mountain Lion research and that Managers feel they would need more information to adequately manage the species. Mountain lions have been spotted in the Catalina Mountains, Tucson Mountains, and Rincon Mountains (near Tucson).

Age Structure, Survival, and Mortality of Mountain Lions in Southeastern Arizona

Author(s): Stanley C. Cunningham, Warren B. Ballard and Heather A. Whitlaw

Project Summary:
Researchers studied Mountain lions in a 4035km2 area in Southeastern Arizona in the Aravaipa-Klondyke area. They captured and radio-collared Mountain lions from three areas with different management control: Mountain lion depredation control and sport hunting, no depredation control or sport hunting, and only sport hunting. Dogs were used to capture Mountain lions in order to place radio-collars with GPS location devices on them. From 1991-1993 researchers located and counted number of Mountain lions from the air weekly and monthly from December 1993 to April 1994, in order to determine survival and cause specific mortality rates for each of the three Mountain lion management areas. Twenty-four Mountain lions were captured and fitted with radio-collars (13 males: 11 females). Radio-collared lions were monitored for survival as well. The overall survival for the 19 Mountain lions in the depredation and sport hunting control area was 55%. This is lower than other Western states which have Sport hunting as a control method. Depredation was recorded as the highest form of cause-specific mortality.

Diet Selection of Mountain Lions in Southeastern Arizona

Author(s): Stan C. Cunningham, Carl R. Gustavson, and Warren B. Ballard

Project Summary:
Researchers studied the diets (Prey selection) of Mountain lions in Southeastern Arizona at the Aravaipa-Klondyke area from 1991-1993. They collected 390 scat samples from Mountain lions to determine the percent frequency of occurrence of prey remains in the feces. 48% of remains found in Scat were of deer, 34% Cattle and 17% Javelina, followed by rabbits, rodents and desert big horn sheep. When they evaluated the proportion of prey killed they determined that rabbits were killed in the highest proportion of the prey species (52.7%) followed by deer (16.3%). Mountain lions appeared to predate less frequently on deer than the species abundance would suggest and more frequently on cattle. Their explanation for the observed frequency of kill on calves can likely be attributed to calves higher vulnerability compared to deer.

Diets of Mountain Lions in Southwestern Arizona

Author(s): Jenny L. Cashman, Matthew Peirce and Paul R. Krausman

Project Summary:
The researchers collected scat samples from five different mountain ranges in Southwestern Arizona in order to determine the diet of Mountain lions inhabiting the Lower Sonoran Desert. The researchers found over 15 different vertebrate food item remains in the 159 scats collected from Mountain Lions. Desert mule deer was the most frequent food item found in Mountain lion scats (39%) followed by Collared peccary (25%), Cattle made up 13% followed by rodents, rabbits, and Mountain Sheep. Eleven of 12 scat samples that contained livestock hair were found in the Vulture Mountains. They determined that the diets of Mountain lions in the mountain ranges of the Southwest did not differ from lions in other ranges. There observations also indicate that though densities of ungulates in the area are low there appears to be enough to support a small Mountain lion population.

Distribution and Population Status of Mountain Lions in Southwestern Arizona

Author(s): Stephen S. Germaine, Kirby D. Bristow and Lisa A. Haynes

Project Summary:
Researchers conducted a survey in Southwestern Arizona covering 18 different Mountain ranges in order to document the presence, sex, and age class of Mountain lions. They investigated presence/absence of Mountain lions using track searches, sign searches, trained dogs and remote photography. Researchers confirmed the presence of Mountain lions in two mountain ranges. One set of tracks was located in the Mohawk Mountains (1996) and two sets were found in the Growler Mountains (1997). Researchers believe that all tracks were left by males. The researchers believed that based on the low density of Mountain lion sign identified that Mountain lions present in the study area are probably from Mountain lions immigrating from surrounding areas. According to their findings a distinct, self-sustainable Mountain lion population unlikely exists in Southwestern Arizona.

Effects of Simulated Mountain Lion Caching on Decomposition of Ungulate Carcasses

Author(s): Zachary Bischoff-Mattson, and David Mattson

Project Summary:
Researchers conducted a summer field experiment to determine the effects on simulated Mountain lion caching on the mass loss, temperature, and spread of odors of 9 prey-like carcasses. Carcasses were deployed in pairs, one carcass of each pair exposed and the other shaded and shallowly buried (cached). Caching reduced wastage of meat during dry and hot periods but did not have same effect during cool moist periods. Temperature and odor were also reduced during both periods. Results show that caching serves to reduce competition from invertebrates and microbes and reduces the odds of detection by larger vertebrates.

Evaluation of Factors Potentially Influencing a Desert Big Horn Sheep Population

Author(s): Ted McKinney, Thorry W. Smith, James C. deVOS Jr.

Project Summary:
Researchers studied a desert big horn sheep population in the Mazatzal Mountains in Central Arizona. They evaluated factors such as: disease, nutritional status of big horn sheep, vegetation parameters, predator diets, Mountain lion harvest and abundance and Mountain lion predation. Researchers captured and placed radio-collars on desert bighorn sheep and conducted aerial surveys to determine relative abundance. Blood samples were taken from all captured sheep to determine diseases and nutritional samples as well as measured the mineral content, use, and structural composition of vegetation and determined the diets of desert bighorn sheep. They also determined the diets of bobcats, coyotes and Mountain lions using fecal samples. There was an observed decline in desert bighorn sheep abundance from 1994-1997 at the study area compared to other areas where Mountain lions are not present, this was followed by an apparent increase in desert bighorn sheep from 1999-2003 in the Mazatzal Mountains in association with predator reductions and lower abundance of Mountain lions. Researchers hypothesize that nutritional status and predation by mountain lions are two factors influencing the Mazatzal Mountains desert bighorn sheep population.

Genetic Analysis of Scats Reveals Minimum Number and Sex of Recently Documented Mountain Lions

Author(s): Ashwin Naidu, Lindsay A. Smythe, Ron W. Thompson, Melanie Culver

Project Summary:
Researchers were interested in estimating the number of Mountain lions occurring inside Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. They used noninvasive genetic analysis techniques using scat samples and were able to identify individual Mountain lions, and sex from samples collected at Kofa and Castle Dome Mountains. 105 scat samples were collected and they identified 11 different individual Mountain lions multiple times over the study period.

Knowledge of and Attitudes Toward Mountain Lions: A Public Opinion Survey of Residents Adjacent to Saguaro National Park, Arizona (2005) (Finished product of Casey Report (2002))

Author(s): Anne L. Casey, Paul R. Krausman, W. W. Shaw, and H. G. Shaw

Researchers conducted phone surveys with 9 local wildlife managers and 493 mail surveys to residents in the Tucson area near Saguaro National Park. The survey conducted measured residents knowledge of and attitudes toward Mountain lions in Tucson, Arizona. All agencies wanted more information on Mountain lions in order to better manage for the species. Resident respondents knowledge of Mountain lions was low and they supported measurements to protect Mountain lions in all landscapes and were opposed to measures that remove protection of Mountain lions.

Mountain Lion Predation of Translocated Desert Bighorn Sheep in Arizona

Author(s): Ted McKinney, James C. Devos Jr., Warren B. Ballard and Sue R. Boe

Project Summary:
The researchers peer reviewed the project previously conducted by Kamler on translocated bighorn sheep in Arizona from 1979-1995 in 12 Arizona locations. The researchers evaluated factors potentially influencing Mountain lion predation on translocated bighorn sheep. They examined factors such as: predation rates, number of sheep released, size of releases, available terrain, habitat quality of release locations and mule deer impact. Mortalities due to Mountain lion predations were independent of their abundance, the sex of their prey and the size of releases as well as escape terrain. They were dependent on mule deer densities, quality of habitat associated with release locations and number of bighorn sheep released.

Mountain Lion Predation on Pronghorn in Central Arizona

Author(s): Richard A. Ockenfels

Project Summary:
Ockenfels documented Mountain lion predation on Pronghorn in Central Arizona from 1989-1993. 47 Pronghorn were captured and fitted with radio-collars equipped with mortality transmitters. 11 of the 29 observed mortalities were caused by Mountain lions. Vegetation type and terrain were both important factors in whether Mountain lions were able to predate on Pronghorn.

Mountain Lion-Human Interactions on the Colorado Plateau: The effects of Human use areas on Mountain lion movements, behavior, and activity patterns

Author(s): Elaine Leslie

Project Summary:
The current project is focusing on spatial movements of Mountain lions in Grand Canyon National Park, especially in areas where there is high human density and throughout the Colorado Plateaus at parks where this research is of interest. Researchers want to understand the adaptability of Mountain lions in the presence of humans (i.e. how and where lions spend their time, and to what extent, where do Mountain lions spend their time, where do they interact with humans) this information is important in order to determine how to reduce the frequency of interactions between Mountain lions in humans in human-dominated landscapes.

Power of Track Surveys to Detect Changes in Cougar Populations

Author(s): Paul Beier and Stanley C. Cunningham

Summary of project:
The researchers surveyed 28 dry washes for Mountain lion tracks in Southeastern Arizona in the Aravaipa-Klondyke study area from 1991-1993. The researchers walked transect lines ranging from 4.5-8km in length counting the number of Mountain Lion tracks and scat for each 0.5km the observer walked. On average the researchers found that 7% of the 0.5km segments of each transect had tracks. They then used a simple Poisson model to simulate observations of track density during the study period. Using the mean track density for all transects they observed how power of their surveys changed based on five factors: Sample size, the risk of incorrectly estimating population density (increase or decline), the magnitude of change (simulating track densities in the second survey that varied by 30% or 50%), direction of change (whether there was an increase or decrease in density between the two periods and patchiness of change in track density between the two surveys, accounting for the probability that some Mountain lions may have shifted their range from one area to another during the two study periods. What they found was that track transects had little power to detect an increase in track density but had somewhat more power to detect decreases in track density. For managers this research shows that track surveys would be effective for showing large decreases in density (50%) but not for smaller decreases (30%).

Rates of Survival and Sources of Mortality of Cougars in Hunted Populations in North-Central Arizona

Author(s): Ted McKinney, Thorry W. Smith and Robert B. Waddell

Project Summary:
Researchers captured and monitored 16 adult Mountain lions on two heavily hunted, semi-arid areas in north-central Arizona in order to assess how hunting and other sources of mortality might affect survival and sources of mortality of Mountain lions in semi-arid ecosystems. Mountain lions were studied near Payson and Prescott; survival differed moderately in the two locations. For the two combined study years (2006-2007) Survival rate of Mountain lions in Payson area was 40% and in Prescott was 55%. Among adult Mountain lions that died hunting caused 62.5% of deaths. It is unknown whether or not populations of Mountain lions in the study areas can sustain the low rates of survival the researchers observed.

Recent Records of Pumas on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge

Author: Lindsay Smythe

In 2001 evidence of a Mountain lion kill was observed at the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge when ADFG came across what appeared to be a Mountain lion cache site where a Mountain lion had cached a mule deer. In 2003 a biologist working for ADFG observed a female Mountain lions and two kittens. The Kofa NWR decided to look into it further and set up 8 infrared triggered remote cameras and two heat/motion sensing cameras at 10 different water holes located throughout the refuge. Records reveal that at least five Mountain Lions were present on the refuge during 2006-2007. However, it is uncertain what the relative density of Mountain lions at Kofa NWR at the present time.

Spatial and Temporal Interactions of Sympatric Mountain Lions in Arizona

Author(s): Kerry L. Nicholson, Paul R. Krausman, Adrain Munguia-Vega and Melanie Culver

Project Summary:
The objectives of the research were to evaluate home range overlap of Mountain lions and both their spatial and temporal use of those zones. The researchers also gathered genetic data on Mountain lions to see the degree of relatedness of Mountain lions in their home range. 29 Mountain Lions were radio-collared and recorded from 2005-2008. For 26 pairs of spatially overlapping Mountain lions they found 8 to be related. Individual Mountain lions found in Tucson were slightly related opposed to Prescott and Payson where individuals were not. Mountain lions home ranges overlapped from 1.18-46.38%. Overall their data showed that geographical distance between Mountain lions correlated with genetic distance. However, their data did not support that Mountain lions with overlapping home ranges would be more related to each other.

Spatial Movements and Ecology of Mountain Lions in Southern Arizona (A PhD Dissertation)

Author: Kerry Lynn Nicholson

Project Summary:
The objective of this research was to study how urbanization effects spatial movements of Mountain lions. Researchers studied factors such as: Habitat selection, urban use by Mountain lions, spatial movements and overlap, genetic relatedness between Mountain lions, diseases and ectoparasites of Mountain lions. The research wanted to address how habitat fragmentation, loss and encroachment affected spatial movement of Mountain lions particularly near urban areas.

Summary of 2001/2002 Mountain Lion Monitoring in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District

Author(s): Lisa Haynes, Don Swann

Project Summary:
Researchers used Noninvasive techniques to monitor Mountain Lions such as track surveys, infrared triggered cameras, and genetic analysis of hair samples from 2001 through the summer of 2002. The Mountain lion population at Saguaro National park is threatened because of habitat loss, potential genetic inbreeding, and disrupted demographics. There is a great concern from park managers because the Tucson Mountains (near Saguaro National Park) are becoming more populated by people and human developments. From track data researchers have determined that Mountain lions are consistently being detected in most areas of the park; however evidence suggests that there is a very small number of male Mountain lions in the park.

Survival and Cougar Predation of Translocated Bighorn Sheep in Arizona

Author(s): Jan F. Kamler, Raymond M. Lee, James C. deVos, Jr., Warren B. Ballard and Heather A. Whitlaw

Project Summary:
Researchers estimated survival and cause-specific mortality for 395 translocated bighorn sheep in Arizona from 1979-1995. About half of translocated sheep were fixed with radio-collars equipped with mortality sensors so researchers could locate the sheep as soon as possible. The causes of death were categorized into several categories: Predation, disease, accidental, hunter-kill, other and unknown. Using MICROMORT program researchers were able to estimate survival and cause specific mortality rates of sheep. 189 of the 395 translocated sheep died during the study. In both the Northwest and Southeast regions survival did not differ among periods, ranging from 80-88% survival rate. In the Southwest annual survival declined from 79% to 44% between periods as well as the Central region from 83%-42%. Annual survival differed among regions from 1992-1997 but not from 1979-1991. The highest form of mortality recorded was by predation (66%) of which 56 of 59 predations were caused by Mountain lions. Researchers believe that recent declines in bighorn sheep populations can be attributed to increase in predation by Mountain lions. The researchers also believe that recent declines in Mule deer in the area in the 1990's may be responsible for increased Mountain lion predation on bighorn sheep.

Taxonomic and Conservation Status of the Yuma Mountain Lion

Author(s): Donald E. McIvor, John A. Bissonette, and Gary S. Drew

Project Summary:
Researchers were determined to settle confusion that persists over the taxonomy and viability of the Yuma mountain lion (Felis concolor browni). Researchers conducted a literature review on Mountain lions in the Southwestern U.S. as well as interviewed resource and public land managers, wildlife researchers to better understand the current status of the Yuma mountain lion. Their appears to be very few if any breeding female Mountain lions, a scarcity of prey, and lack of suitable habitat within the reported range of this population that raises doubt on its status.

Trichinosis in Mountain lions in Arizona

Author(s): Albert L. LeCount and William J. Zimmermann

Project Summary:
The study was conducted from 1981-1983 researchers collected tongue samples from 18 Mountain lions taken by hunters in four counties: Trichinae was found in 66.7% of the samples (12/18). Intensity of trichinae larvae ranged from 0.2 larvae per gram to 115.4 larvae per gram and all samples averaged 44.1 larvae per gram. Trichinae were found in all life stages of Mountain lions except yearlings. The study has serious implications for Mountain lions because due to the animals large home ranges the chances are likely that Mountain lions will spread Trichinosis. What still needs to be known is the source of the infections.

Last Update: November 2015