When outdoorsman James Horton launched his boat into California’s Lake McClure to compete in a fishing tournament on Saturday, he probably wouldn’t have guessed that he would bump into a swimming mountain lion. As Horton made his way across the water, he spotted a bobbing creature that he initially mistook for a deer, but as he edged closer, a distinctive feline-shaped head came into focus.


Horton, who has enjoyed a few fleeting glimpses of mountain lions on land before, described the sighting as a "once in a lifetime experience." "It was really cool to see an animal like that for that length of time," he added when describing the encounter to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

Although the behaviour is rarely witnessed, mountain lions have been known to take the occasional dip, often to get to areas with more abundant prey. According to Horton, this cat appeared to be doing just that as it was spotted heading away from an area with sparse tree cover on route to more fruitful hunting grounds.

”Cougars are great swimmers … they'll commonly swim between islands in search of prey. Their preferred prey is deer, which also swim well," Danielle Thompson from the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve explained to the Times Colonist newspaper in 2016. In addition to deer and other terrestrial animals, these opportunistic hunters will also tackle sea creatures such as otters, seals and sea lion pups. "They're a highly adaptable predator."

It’s this adaptability that has resulted in mountain lions claiming the largest range of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, with a distribution stretching from Canada to the southern tip of South America. So it’s hardly surprising, given their extensive stomping grounds, that these cats are sometimes faced with “aquatic obstacles” that force them into the drink.

In 2016, a pair of cougars were spotted bobbing across California’s Shasta Lake, and earlier in the summer another nautically inclined cat was seen paddling across a lake in Bellingham, Washington.

According to Horton, this particular mountain lion swam a distance somewhere between a quarter and half a mile at a pace that he described as “Olympic”. After reaching the shore, the cat bolted up a hill and out of sight. "I'm sure he's living the good life over there," Horton said.

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