New Mexico path through Tent Rocks.
Photo of lion confidently walking towards camera on trail.


New Mexico still allows trapping on much of its public lands.

Approximately one-third of New Mexico is suitable lion habitat. The rest of the state lacks critical resources to house a stable breeding population of resident lions, but may be used for dispersal between core habitat regions. New Mexico is believed to have a population of roughly 2,500 lions.

Keep in mind that although lions are physically capable of living in certain places (based on geographical, vegetative and prey species characteristics), it does not mean they necessarily do. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out lions from any area. For more data on habitat-usage, check out our Science tab.

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New Mexico Lion Habitat and Population

The state of New Mexico encompasses 121,356 square miles of land. According to the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish (NMDGF), mountain lions "generally inhabit the rougher country in New Mexico avoiding the low elevation desert areas and eastern plains. They do however occur in these areas in conjunction with pockets of mule deer and areas of topographic diversity."

Map of Potential Mountain Lion Habitat in New Mexico

In 2008, NMDGF used a Mountain Lion Population Density Model based on a GIS-mapped habitat study funded by the conservation organization, Animal Protection of New Mexico. This particular model divided 92 percent of the state into four distinct mountain lion habitat categories: Core, Minimum Patch, Dispersal, and Poor / Marginal; and assigned population density ranges for each category.

Using this same lion population density model, MLF estimates that New Mexico currently has approximately 2,550 mountain lions distributed accordingly:

  • Core: prime mountain lion habitat able to support about 1 adult lion per 15 square miles. 24 percent of the state is Core (approximately 29,118 square miles), home to an estimated 1,886 adult mountain lions.
  • Minimum Patch: areas of land able to support about 1 adult lion per 37 square miles. 4 percent of the state is recognized as Minimum Patch (approximately 4,853 square miles) and supports an estimated 131 adult mountain lions.
  • Dispersal: areas of land able to support about 1 adult lion per 77 square miles. 4 percent of the state is recognized as Dispersal (approximately 4,853 square miles), sustaining an estimated 63 adult mountain lions.
  • Poor/Marginal: poor quality mountain lion habitat with less resources, only able to support 1 adult lion per 154 square miles. The majority of the state, 60 percent, is considered Poor/Marginal (approximately 72,795 square miles), and is home to an estimated 471 adult mountain lions.

Apparently, officials at NMDGF felt that the population estimates derived from the 2008 model were too low. Less than two-years later, NMDGF is now using a radically different mountain lion population density model which seems to be developed from an unpublished Master's Thesis. As a result, New Mexico appears to have lost 39,448 square miles of mountain lion habitat, while gaining an additional 1,930 adult mountain lions. MLF can only assume that NMDGF's use of the new 2010 lion population density model is based more on political concerns rather than biological evidence, for the express purpose of justifying the increased mountain lion hunting quotas since 2010.

ON AIR: Phil Carter - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

03/19/13 An Audio Interview with Julie West, MLF Broadcaster

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, MLF Volunteer Julie West interviews mountain lion program manager Phil Carter of Animal Protection of New Mexico. Carter discusses the often ridiculous lengths the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish will go to to disregard the public, bury scientific research, and ignore all common sense. Trying to protect mountain lions in New Mexico and incorporate the best science into management has turned into a game of one step forward, two steps back.

Click here to open a new window and visit the agency's website...

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Commonly abbreviated as: NMDGF

Michael Sloane, Director

Main Office:
1 Wildlife Way
Santa Fe, NM 87507
(505) 476-8000

Bear and Cougar Biologist
Rick Winslow
PO Box 25112
Santa Fe, NM 87504
(505) 476-8046

Please write to the director and express your concern for lions in New Mexico.

Thank NMDGF when they take steps to protect our state's cougars. When they fall short of expectations, politely ask for policy reform and more officer training.