July 30, 2018–Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, CA – Conservation biologists from Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR), announced that in late July P6, a sub-adult mountain lion collared as part of the Living with Lions study was killed in Kenwood after a landowner requested a depredation permit from California Department of Fish and Wildlife after the lion killed one of a handful of goats kept on the property. This marks the second lion in nine months to be removed from the ecosystem by request from a landowner.
P6, born on March 27, 2017, became a local celeb as one of three kittens born to her mom, P1, the project’s first research subject. “The ten-day-old triplets, incredibly well hidden in Pampas grass less than a hundred yards from a home in Glen Ellen, provided our community with a heart-warming glimpse into the fragile lives of mountain lions in our region,” said Dr. Quinton Martins, lead researcher for the project. Over the course of the next six months, the team documented the trio’s movements as they grew from chirping kittens to juveniles on the run from the Nuns Fire.
Mortality rates among mountain lion kittens are roughly 50% across the board, and by February 2018, when researchers captured her for a second time to place a GPS collar on her, P6 was the last remaining kitten from that litter of triplets.
P2, a sibling of P6 from an earlier litter, suffered the same fate when she was captured and killed on December 14, 2017, under a depredation permit after killing two pet livestock in the Glen Ellen area. Fitted with a GPS collar in November 2016, P2 traversed nearly 8,600 private parcels in the Sonoma Valley, crossing Highway 12 multiple times and carving out what might eventually have become her home territory.
“The killing of two of seven collared lions in the past year has impacted our study of the ecology of mountain lions in the Mayacamas range,” said Martins, who had great success in the human-wildlife conflict field in South Africa while studying leopards. Working with local communities, Martins saw a reduction in depredation permits from eight per year to zero in the ten-year span of his study. “Little did I know when I found P1’s den that her kittens had a much lower chance of survival than expected.”
Addressing the cause cited for these two depredation events, Martins revealed that the although examination of the remains of mountain lion diet during the past two years shows that 75% of their prey are deer, each one of the study subjects has at some point killed unprotected pets and livestock. “By removing the offending lion, we neglect to address the underlying issue of safeguarding domestic animals,” he added. “Unless adequate precautions are taken to shore up domestic animal enclosures, the situation will be repeated at the same location or elsewhere.”
Aiming for Better Outcomes for Wildlife-Livestock Conflict
In California, mountain lions are at the top of the food chain and play critical roles in the maintenance and functioning of their ecosystems. In our region, mountain lions’ preferred prey are deer. Disruptions in the population of this key predator can affect deer behavior and populations, causing a number of impacts in the system. Studies in Zion and Yosemite National Parks highlight how the loss of mountain lions resulted in the dramatic increase in the deer populations, which then heavily impacted growth of new trees and vegetation in the region, caused erosion and even affected fish and butterfly diversity.
“Mountain lions, as top carnivores, are important in maintaining the integrity of our ecosystem,” explained Martins. “It is fantastic to know that mountain lions still roam this incredible landscape, and the Living with Lions project will do all it can to help people co-exist with the wildlife here,” said Martins.
Recent sightings of mountain lions throughout Sonoma County
Dr. Martins attributes the uptick in mountain lion sightings possibly to longer daylight hours, more outdoor activity by people and misidentification. “During the summer months, people are more active outdoors for longer than in winter. Although mountain lions are typically crepuscular and nocturnal, they are regularly known to move around during the day, therefore are more likely to be seen.” Another factor for the increase in reported sightings may be due to the increase in use of social media networks that gets the word our faster and further. “We have also noted that a significant number of reported sightings are of bobcats or other animals and not lions.”
Dr. Martins is also interested in seeing better management of the county’s use of security alerts such as Nixle alerts so that people are not made to be frightened when a mountain lion sighting occurs. “A study shows that only 20 people have been killed by mountain lions in the whole of North America in 100 years. Although mountain lions may prove to be a threat, they are statistically clearly not a threat, so these reports should be measured accordingly,” says Martins, who adds, “a lion-related fatality may occur in Sonoma one day, I hope not, however, if one occurs I hope it will be viewed in the greater context of an extreme anomaly rather than an imminent threat to people in this beautiful area.”
TIPS FOR PET AND LIVESTOCK OWNERS: Ideas from the field for secure livestock enclosures https://mountainlion.org/portalprotectsecureenclosures.asp
MORE INFO: Follow along with the team: Doc Martins Caterwaul at https://egret.org/living-with-lions