On Thursday, researchers from UC Santa Cruz published their findings from tracking mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains, entitled "Scale Dependent Behavioral Responses to Human Development by a Large Predator, the Puma."
Their data from 2008 through 2011 has shed some new light on how lions manage to survive on the outskirts of the San Francisco bay area — one of the largest metropolitan regions in the country.
Chris Wilmers and his research team captured and began tracking 37 mountain lions in 2008. These cats are living in very close proximity to people but remain mostly undetected, and are able to occupy the remaining patches of wildlife habitat.
Wilmers found that while many lions will enter rural neighborhoods, during reproduction (mating and raising kittens), females move to more remote areas. Keeping their kittens away from human-developed areas and other lions increases their chances for survival.
The team also identified frequently used wildlife corridors. This data could help advise the placement of future man-made wildlife crossings. For example, one male lion in the study crossed Highway 17 a remarkable thirty-one times before being hit by a vehicle. He narrowly survived the collision but was later killed under a depredation permit for eating unprotected sheep.
In fact, conflicts with domestic animals accounted for the death of nearly 22% of the lions in the Santa Cruz study. The loss of these lions and the domestic animals could have easily been prevented with simple livestock protection measures.