Photo by Ian Williams on Unsplash
Here in Los Angeles, mountain lions also known as California cougars or pumas can be spotted frequently in urban neighborhoods thanks to the prevalence of surveillance cameras. The estimated cougar population in California is 4000 - 6000 as of 2018. It is just an estimate though as the animals are very elusive and hard to locate and count. Adult males weigh up to 200 pounds and 8 feet long. The females average around 120 pounds. They are usually shy around humans and will avoid you. Attacks on humans are rare. They will eat your dogs or cats without hesitation though. Mountain lions are filmed often in local backyards. More than half of California is considered to be mountain lion territory. Although, they can be found anywhere in California. They are considered an apex predator at the top of the food chain. An adult female will have 1-2 kittens that will stay with her for 1-2 years before breeding again. The mother will teach them all of their survival skills. Fewer than half of all kittens survive to adulthood. Predation and forest fires are major risks to kittens. They generally live anywhere there are deer but they will eat other animals and pets. Deer are also very adaptable and can survive in most parts of California. Many animals scavenge the leftovers of mountain lions. Mountain lions keep the deer population in check. Their biggest threats are car accidents and depredation permits which allow them to be killed if they have killed a pet or livestock by law in California. Trophy hunting is illegal in California. They play an important role in our ecosystem. They are also a sentinel of contamination. Many mountain lions have rodenticide present in their system during autopsies.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
People have had a huge impact on the habitat of lions. Human encroachment has caused many challenges for lions.
How can we safely live with them?
Having covered the precautions, it is important to note again that mountain lions rarely attack humans. It is more likely that you will drown in your bathtub or be attacked by a pet dog - or be hit by lightning. Mountain lions are so afraid of humans that the sound of talk radio can send them running in the opposite direction. This is why most Californians have rarely, if ever, seen a mountain lion in person. They are very weary of humans.
Lack of connectivity in habitat has caused 10 distinct populations of mountain lions in California. The genetics are becoming so limited that the populations are decreasing and face extinction. Basically, what this means is that the mountain lions cannot access other habitats for breeding to optimally mix the gene pool. This is leading to inbreeding because the lions cannot cross our freeways without dying. This is why wildlife corridors are being developed to reconnect wildlife habitats and preserve wildlife bio-diversity. Specially designed fencing that funnels wildlife toward the safe corridors and away from the freeways has been very effective at reducing wildlife deaths and collisions with the wildlife. It benefits not only the lions but humans as well.
These beautiful majestic animals are important to our ecosystem. We can share the territory with them and respect their right to live here too. Finding a balance to share this beautiful state with the animals that naturally inhabit it is good for everyone.