MOUNTAINS OF DIFFICULTIES FOR LIONS OF LOS ANGELES
This past week, we went to another presentation at the California Science Center. The topic drew a much larger audience than usual to attend a lecture given by a National Parks Service wildlife biologist, Jeff Sikich. He related the details of his latest project that researches the impact of urbanization and habitat fragmentation on mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. In the 150 acres near the major hub of Los Angeles there are many animal species including the mountain lion. The mountain lion is the last large carnivore in this area and is also known as a Puma, Cougar, Catamount, Yellow Screamer, and the Ghost Cat! Mountain lion adults weigh about 150 lbs. which is ten times heavier than the bobcat’s 15 lbs. Another difference between these Los Angeles native cats is their tails! A mountain lion has a long tail which can be 3 feet long (roughly 1/3 of the lion’s length) while the bobcat sports a tail between 6.5″ to 12″ long.
In order for us to understand these amazing animals, research often involves catching the mountain lions and placing a GPS collar on them so they can be tracked. This tracking allows us to learn about the range of their territory and gives us clues into their behavior. But even before the GPS can begin it’s work more research is being done! During the capture, measurements are taken, blood is drawn for lab work, and if disease is observed then the animal is often treated. Such information gives us even greater insight into locations of where the animal travels, how long they stay in a given area, what they eat, and if they are breeding.
According to research, most mountain lions prey on deer for their sustenance, but they can also consume coyotes and raccoons. Adult male mountain lions can use an entire mountain range to roam (for territory) and after taking over a space will fight off other males that come into their territory. To declare their territory, they use their paws to scrape the ground and also urinate and defecate to warn off any outsiders. Researchers have observed that they stay in the natural habitat 98% of the time rather than venturing into human populated areas. Unfortunately due to the size of these territories and the restricted area because of human populated areas, the young adult males begin to roam and encounter many obstacles which leads many to die by 2 years old! Normally in the wild these incredible animals would live 12 to 13 years.
The major problems facing mountain lions today are:
1. Unable to cross the freeway and when attempted usually get killed by vehicles
2. Resultant low genetic diversity
3. Close inbreeding that leads to deaths due to heart defects and low reproduction
4. Fatal fights among males trying to take over territories
5. Death due to poisoning after ingesting an animal who has eaten poison
A project has been launched to build a natural crossing (vegetated overpass) that has proven to work in other areas. This will stretch across the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon. The project will cost an estimated $50 million and will be the largest in the world stretching over 10 lanes of freeway. To learn more and to contribute to this project, go to website: www.savelacougars.org