Blog post Tara Roth, Ph.D.

Urban Carnivores
Learning to Live Together


You may have heard their cries at dusk. Coyotes are one of the most common urban carnivores in San Mateo County and important predators of rodents. Coyotes also help control deer and Canada geese, which can be very destructive to gardens and grassy areas, by preying on their young and slowing their population growth. There is also evidence that coyotes may directly compete with raccoons, skunks and opossums which helps to reduce the numbers of these urban carnivores as well. That being said, coyotes can be a challenge to live with. They will often attack and kill other smaller carnivores, such as foxes and domestic cats, and have been known to get into conflicts with domestic dogs. They can also carry a number of infectious diseases, such as canine distemper or leptospirosis, which may spread to pets.

Mountain Lions

Mountain lions are the largest wild cat found in North America and have more common names than any other species of mammal (such as puma, cougar, catamount, painter or panther). Mountain lions are strict carnivores and about 90% of their diet is composed of mule deer, raccoons, coyotes and badgers. A mountain lion can feed from a single deer kill for up to 5 days, but even their presence is enough to reduce the impact of deer on the environment by forcing them to not feed in one place for a long period of time. Mountain lions are powerful predators and attacks on humans and livestock are rare but not unheard of. While there are a number of stories of lions coexisting with humans (provided they have enough range and prey to sustain themselves) it is important to recognize the possible danger they represent and take care while hiking or picnicking in mountain lion habitat.


Bobcats are the most widely distributed wild cat in North America. About twice the size of a domestic cat with spotted fur, tufted ears and a short tail, they can be hard to spot in the underbrush. Bobcats feed predominantly on small mammals such as rabbits, pocket gophers, and voles but may also take a bird. Bobcats that live near urban centers are predominantly nocturnal and may hold ranges of 2 square miles which they hunt in alone. There is little evidence that bobcats ever attack pets, but they may contract diseases from domestic cats can and pass them to diseases to our pets.

Living with Wildlife

The most important thing to remember when living with carnivores is to keep your pets safe. Keep all pets indoors at night. Keep dogs on a leash if you go hiking for both their safety and the safety of local wildlife. Pet cats should always be kept indoors. Outdoor cats can be preyed on by many different carnivores (including hawks and owls) and may contract deadly diseases from wildlife or other cats. They may also be hit by cars or sustain injuries. Cats also decimate native bird populations so keeping them indoors is best for both their safety and the health of the environment. Finally, if you have livestock, make sure to move them into protective enclosures. Mountain lions can easily climb a 12-foot fence so if you live in lion habitat, move your animals inside a barn at night.

Keep Urban Carnivores Safe

Do not feed wildlife. It may be tempting to try to feed wildlife through the winter months, but artificial food sources may cause populations to grow to a point where the natural environment cannot sustain them. Starvation and a lack of fear of humans may cause animals to become desperate and aggressive – increasing the chance of injuries or attacks on pets.

Lastly, please do not use rodenticides or other control methods carelessly, as this may inadvertently harm urban carnivores, pets or other wildlife. Always follow the instructions on the box and select where and when you use these poisons carefully. Or contact a certified pest control specialist. These professionals are educated and certified in the best practices to both control rodents and keep wildlife safe. The best and most permanent method to control rodents is to exclude them from your home through simple changes like repairing screens and cutting foliage away from the roofline. The District can help by providing a rodent inspection which will help identify areas where rodents may be entering.

Want to know more about urban carnivores and efforts to conserve them? has some great information on research being conducted in California.