Hear our interview: Click this audio link.
By Miriam Raftery
November 30, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – Efforts are underway to declare mountain lions endangered species in portions of Southern California. “Their habitat is being fragmented,” wildlife biologist Renee Owens with Wild Zone Conservation told ECM in an interview on our radio show that originally aired on KNSJ 89.1 FM in October.
In California, the number one cause of mortality for mountain lions is being struck by vehicles while crossing roadways. In addition, some 200 depradation permits are issued each year in California allowing the killing of mountain lions, usually because they are preying on livestock. “Nationwide, we know that over 3,000 mountain lions a year are reported to have died,” Owens says.
The Mountain Lion Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity have petitioned the state to list mountain lions as protected because some isolated populations are “literally in danger of extinction.” Owens says experts suspect this is also happening in San Diego, where recent numbers show the lions are “actually in decline," according to Owens.
Scroll down for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview on the audio link.
Normally reclusive animals, mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are crossing roads in seeks or mates or prey animals such as deer. In Los Angeles, a wildlife corridor is planned. A wildlife corridor under State Route 52 has ben blocked by a fence, preventing passage. Owens believes wildlife corridors should be required as mitigation for development. After this interview, ECM learned that plans are under consideration in San Diego County for a possible wildlife tunnel under State Route 67, where mountain lions have been killed by vehicles. (Photo, right: lion killed on State Route 67 in September.)
“That’s the future in the world of mountain lions – more development, more housing, more sprawl,” says Owens, noting that more development leads to more traffic. Widening of roadways, as is planned for State Route 67, makes crossing even more risky for wildlife.
Rodenticides – rat poisons – are also harming many mountain lions and other wildlife. An important thing you can do to save mountain lions and other local wildlife is to never use rodenticides. Alternatives include traps or attracting rodent predators such as hawks, owls and gopher snakes, as well as cleaning up whatever is attracting rodents.
When a top predator such as a mountain lion is removed, the ecosystem suffers, since prey animals may become overpopulated. On the East Coast, decimating mountain lions has led to an increase in deer and an increase in diseases carried by deer ticks, including Lyme disease. Mountain lions prefer deer or elk, but will also eat prey ranging from rabbits to coyotes, as well as pets. One hungry mountain lion in Los Angeles hopped a fence into the L.A. Zoo and feasted on a koala.
Owens encourages farmers and ranchers to choose options other than predation permits to protect sheep, goats, cattle and other livestock. Keeping livestock in a covered enclosure and pets indoors overnight is the best protection. Other options include certain species of dogs to protect herds or hazing with lights or noises.
A new law prohibits seeking a predation permit in some parts of California unless you have first tried hazing. One study found playing recordings of the human voice, from Rush Limbaugh ranting to poetry being read aloud.
Climate change and wildfires are also taking their toll on mountain lions and their habitat.
Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, with just 20 fatal attacks in the past 100 years in all of North America. To be safe, use caution in mountain lion territory, such as hiking with a friend, carrying a walking stick and pepper spray or bear spray. If you do see a lion that seems aggressive, don’t roll up in a ball as you should with a bear. Instead, make yourself look as large as possible, raising your arms or holding out a coat, and make noise to frighten off the lion.
If you’ve never heard a mountain lion, you might be surprised to learn that a mountain lion can make sounds similar to a bird chirping or a woman screaming, a far cry from the roar made by African lions. Hear some mountain lion calls on our show, which can be accessed at the audio link to our show.
Wild Zone Conservation is a local nonprofit that conducts citizens’ science projects and research. Their experts are available to speak to organizations on a variety of topics. “We’d love to come talk to you about wildlife,” Owens says.