Map of P24 and P25 during a one-month period in 2021

In early 2021, Living with Lions principal investigator Dr. Quinton Martins collared four male mountain lions (P24, P25, P30 and P31) in western and northern Sonoma County near Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Cazadero and Geyserville after each was implicated in the killing of a sheep or goat. In each case the landowner invited Martins to conduct the capture to aid in a better understanding of mountain lion behavior and ecology in our area. For more details, review this article about the benefits of collaring mountain lions responsible for killing livestock. 

Since then we’ve been following the lions, and collecting data, to in part, provide a more informed view of how these depredating lions differ in behavior to lions monitored that were captured in non-conflict situations.

We’ve also been helping pet and livestock owners in the area make puma-proof improvements to their pet pastures, from upgrading open-air pens to secured nighttime enclosures and other deterrents. However, because one lion’s home range can cover over a thousand land parcels, some livestock have remained exposed and vulnerable.

P24 is gone and now provides a cautionary tale

In the areas west of Healdsburg, lion P24 continued to opportunistically prey on unsecured domestic animals until he was killed late last year during one such event, under a depredation permit allowed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

After so many attacks on domestic animals, it may seem justified to view P24 as an indiscriminate predator and remove the threat; however, P24’s preference for livestock is more of an anomaly than what is typically happening. We have observed that every lion moving in areas where people have unprotected pets or livestock is highly likely to kill these at some stage in its life – often on multiple occasions. Which means that removing a lion is not solving the underlying issue of needing to protect one’s animals.

  • Movements of mountain lions P24 and P25 in one-month period in 2021
  • Map shows P24s range and last 3 months of data of P30 and P31
  • P30 is a younger male point lion who Living with Lions tracks by GPS collar

Removing territorial lions is not a long-term solution

What is paramount in this case is to observe the impacts of removing a territorial lion from the system, providing a cautionary tale as to why generally speaking, killing of a depredating lion is not a long-term (or even short-term) solution.

Project data from our collared lions in the area show that within 90 days of the ‘territorial vacuum’ created by P24’s removal, collared male lions P30 and P31 have made distinct forays into P24’s now vacant territory. We would expect that other non-collared dispersing males have also moved into the area looking to take it over.

The result, for a few months until things stabilize at least, is that at least 2, if not more, male lions are occupying an area where previously there was only 1. The risk to owners of unprotected livestock would naturally increase as a result. In most cases it is best to manage your area by not interfering with lions, which in turn would keep their numbers at lower densities.

Avoiding livestock conflicts with mountain lions is possible

Over the next couple of months, we will be able to tell whether the younger P30 takes over this vacant territory or not, or whether another uncollared male moves in to take over this territory. Hopefully the new resident will adopt a more typical diet where deer (and feral pigs in this area) form the main part of his diet.

While we watch the lions, we are also keenly aware that unsecured livestock in the area remain vulnerable; and that is where you can make a difference.

Do you want to learn the best ways to avoid conflict with mountain lions and other top carnivores? Do you know someone who needs help improving their livestock enclosure?
If you or anyone you know has any conflict issues with mountain lions or need advice on keeping your animals safe, please contact Dr. Quinton Martins at 707-721-6560 or [email protected].

We are grateful to the folks who have contacted Living with Lions after suffering a painful loss of one of their animals.

If you want to build a puma-proof pen, check out this video: