Mountain lions are more common in Los Angeles, California than previously believed. According to a study just published in the journal PLOS ONE, the lions often hunt less than a mile away from human development. The study also explored differences between male and female hunting styles.
Los Angeles is home to a large population of mountain lions, also known as pumas, cougars, panthers, or catamounts. They are apex predators at the top of the food chain, preferring to hunt various species of deer and elk. Mountain lions rarely attack people but do sometimes target pets and livestock. The best thing to do during a mountain lion encounter is to fight back, make a lot of noise, and try to appear large and scary. Playing dead or running will usually trigger the lion to attack with a characteristic bite to the neck. In general, though, mountain lions avoid humans whenever possible.
Researchers from the University of California and the National Park Service studied mountain lion populations in the Santa Monica area. They conducted field observations and fitted some of the mountain lions with GPS collars. The researchers found that males generally hunt in woodlands near water sources. These spots tend to attract mule deer, a favorite prey item. While male lions stuck to forests and more rural areas, females often hunted in urban settings. Female mountain lions tended to hunt near human developments and were often spotted making kills less than a mile away from developed land. The researchers speculated that females chose urban areas in order to avoid male lions. Male lions can be dangerous to females and will often kill any kittens they come across.
The researchers note that mountain lions are illegal to hunt but are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. In general, the lions are common throughout California but individual populations may be struggling. Many mountain lions succumb to rodent poisons, get hit by cars, and become isolated due to fragmented habitats. Freeways divide their territories, leading to higher rates of inbreeding. The authors recommend the use of wildlife crossings to make conditions safer for both the cats and people.
John F. Benson et al. Individual and Population Level Resource Selection Patterns of Mountain Lions Preying on Mule Deer along an Urban-Wildland Gradient. PLOS ONE (2016).