ANIMAL WATCH-“Los Angeles is the only megacity in the world where mountain lions, also known as cougars and pumas, live side-by-side with humans,” CBS correspondent Bill Whitaker stated during a 60-Minutes broadcast on "Mountain-Lions-of-L.A.”
But new information indicates this relaxed living arrangement in California may also be making mountain lions lazier and changing their dietary preferences.
A recent California Department of Fish and Wildlife study, announced by SFGate on February 14, examined the stomach contents of 83 mountain lions out of the 107 legally killed in the state last year under special depredation permits. The results showed that 52% had recently consumed cats, dogs and other domestic animals.
Traditionally, mountain lions favor deer meat, experts say, but only 5 percent had deer meat in their digestive systems, according to the report, which opined that pet dogs and cats require far less effort to catch.
The stomach contents of 18 percent of the remainder of the big cats were too digested to be identified. But, had that been possible, it could have shown that over 60 percent ate cats, dogs and other domestic animals, the report states.
The offsetting news shared by the California DFW representative is that, although the study verified the high incidence of lions eating pets, coyotes and other predators attack and eat pets at high levels, too. “A coyote can jump over an 8-foot fence, grab a small dog or cat and be gone before you even know it’s there,” Information Officer Andrew Hughan added.
The report on mountain lions’ dietary habits had not been released to the public, SFGate stated, “but the DFW provided it quickly when requested.”
It’s understandable why the agency was not eager to disseminate this information. Angelenos and other California residents are still reeling from the rapid increase and pervasiveness of urban coyotes. Many have recently experienced the tragedy of a canis latrans grabbing a beloved pet from their secured yard, or boldly snatching it from a porch or while it was on a leash strolling with its owner.
Local coyotes have been reported entering homes through doggie doors in pursuit of a fleeing pet, and an attack on a 3-year-old girl in Elysian Park was reported in September 2015.
LA Animal Services’ representatives have basically taken the position been that the loss of a pet or injury from these attacks is the humans’ fault because coyotes were here first.
On the DAS website, GM Brenda Barnette refers concerns to the lengthy Wildlife Section, where those worried about predator attacks are informed that:
“Statistically the chances of wildlife attacks on humans causing fatality are low when compared to 43,000 people killed by auto accidents, 13,000 people killed by falls, and on the obscure side 13 people that are killed by vending machine’s (sic) falling on them every year. Practice animal safety at all times. Show children how to react when in the presence of any animal. If you are not sure of what the appropriate response is to the appearance of a particular wild animal, you may contact the Departments Wildlife Division or the Department of Fish & Game for further advice.”
Alarmed residents -- who also fear for their children’s safety -- are instructed by LAAS to pick up fallen fruit, secure garbage can lids, not feed wildlife, and feed dogs and cats inside.
(Other wildlife sites also include not feeding of feral cats or colonies -- which have been termed “smorgasbords for coyotes.”)
Now, with an expanding mountain lion population, it appears we will need additional information to keep neighborhoods safe.
Mountain lions don’t scare easily and generally avoid humans, so -- just like P22, who made a “daybed” in a crawl space under a Los Feliz-area home in April 2015 unbeknownst to the owners -- they may be closer at any time than we think.
Correspondent Bill Whitaker, in the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast, asked homeowner Paula Archinaco about P22, “When you moved here, did you know that there was a mountain lion in the vicinity?”
“No. No. Not at all. Not at all, “she replied, “There's signs for rattlesnakes. There's not signs for mountain lions.”
After the 11 o’clock news broadcast, wildlife experts asked that all reporters and visitors leave and give P22 a chance to just head for the nearby hills -- which he did.
Seth Riley of the National Park Service told Whitaker that P22 wanders the hills of Griffith Park, “We haven't, knock on wood, had any major conflicts with him and people. And it shows that even a large carnivore like a mountain lion can live right among people for many years.”
The CBS report also discusses how local mountain lions are penned in by freeways and development. Usually one male stakes out a roaming area of about 200 miles square, but in the Santa Monica Mountains that range may contain over a dozen males and females, Bob Wayne explained.
Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at UCLA told 60 Minutes that the incest results in an abnormal situation and creates unhealthy interactions; such as, males killing their own mates. He believes it is because their space is too limited.
California’s Fish and Wildlife’s “Keep me Wild” page informs us:
“More than half of California is mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions generally exist wherever deer are found. They are solitary and elusive, and their nature is to avoid humans.”
“Mountain lions prefer deer but, if allowed, they also eat pets and livestock. In extremely rare cases, even people have fallen prey to mountain lions.
“Mountain lions that threaten people are immediately killed. Those that prey on pets or livestock can be killed by a property owner after the required depredation permit is secured. Moving problem mountain lions is not an option. It causes deadly conflicts with other mountain lions already there. Or the relocated mountain lion returns.”
Tips for “Living in Mountain Lion Country:”
- Don’t feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.
- Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat. (For tips, request A Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage from DFG offices.)
- Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
- Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
- Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.
- Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active -- dawn, dusk, and at night.
- Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.
- If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.
Here is some additional basic information about mountain lions, but be sure to do your own research regarding safety:
Mountain lions (cougars, pumas) can leap 30 feet from a standstill, or jump 15 feet straight up a cliff wall or into a tree and are excellent climbers. They run at a speed of 35 to 50 mph, but prefer sprints to long chases.
They prefer to remain hidden until their intended prey approaches but may quietly stalk prey for up to an hour. They can then leap 20 to 40 feet with claws extended.
Adult mountain lions vary in length from 7 to 9 feet from head to tail, with males weighing typically from 140 to 180 lb. and females about 25% smaller. Their coat can vary from tan or a reddish color to steel grey. The undersides of their bodies have light, and often white, areas. At the tip of the tail is an identifying black spot.
According to Animal Facts, “They make their home anywhere that there is shelter and prey.”
Cougars use their paws and claws to trip prey (i.e. a swat to the rear legs) or grab it with their claws, then use their claws to hold their prey while delivering the kill-bite, the Washington Fish and Wildlife site explains.
Large dogs or horses -- which may at least cause a coyote to bring reinforcements -- pose little challenge to the big cat. A cougar’s strength and powerful jaws allow it to take down and drag prey larger than itself, experts advise.
During most of their lives, male cougars are solitary and interact only to mate, which can happen at any time of year. Females give birth to two or four kittens at a time. The male has no part in raising the young, leaving them behind with the mother. At around two years old, cougar offspring will leave their mother to start their own life, with males often traveling many miles. In the wild they live an average of 10 years.
Mountain lions are considered at the top of the food chain, with no real natural predators. They are resourceful and stealth hunters but will eat rodents and small animals and even insects to survive.
In keeping people and pets safe while hiking or at home, Mudmosh.com provides simple, important advice.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s “Living with Wildlife” has extensive advice on Do's and Don'ts in Cougar Country and lots of helpful, detailed information on safety if you come into contact with a mountain lion.
It reminds us, “Our increasing human populations and decreasing cougar habitat may create more opportunities for such encounters.”
(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.