What a primal joy to awake each morning on the east side of the Bay Bridge in the beautiful Bay Area and know that somewhere up in the hills, quietly walking, sleeping, purring or chirping, caring for cubs, or hunting – are lions. Lions! Known as mountain lion, cougar, puma and panther, the elusive “cat of one color” has inspired more names—40 in English alone— than any other animal in the world. The mountain lion is the biggest wild cat in North America and has the largest geographic range of any carnivore in the Western Hemisphere. Mountain lions can be found from the Yukon to the southern Andes. Here in the Bay Area, lions are known to roam the Santa Cruz Mountains, and varies ranges in the East Bay, near me.
Our mountain lions are much different than African lions in that they are solitary and maintain territories that average 100 square miles in size. Males are highly protective of their large domains and will fight to defend it. A fortunate mountain lion can live a 10-12 year life in the wild. They eat deer and other small mammals which helps keep ecosystems balanced and healthy.
The status of mountain lions is very much in question. Though true populations in the United States, Mexico, Central and South America is virtually unknown, experts estimate 30,000 in the United States. Per the Mountain Lion Foundation’s sources, the California’s statewide population of mountain lions is approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.
As mountain lion habitat is increasingly fragmented and movement corridors are blocked by human development, more sightings and encounters with mountain lions are causing challenges. Mountain lions are being killed more often by cars and depredation permits (issued when livestock or pets are attacked), and increasing news reports of mountain lion encounters are driving growing public concern for both people and the cats.
As the Conservation Director at Oakland Zoo, I work very closely with wildlife conservation issues all over the world, and habitat loss and the resulting human-wildlife conflict is a challenge we all share, whether that is elephants, tigers, African lions or our own apex predator. I have learned that it takes all stakeholders coming together to truly offer hope for these species.
Now, for the good news: in the Bay Area, mountain lions have friends. One of these friends is the Bay Area Puma Project, who is bringing their international cat research expertise home to the East bay with the aim of understanding these cats and improving our local co-existence with them. Oakland Zoo supports these efforts (they were our Quarters for Conservation project in 2013) and is excited to share their expertise with our public on March 5th at our Conservation Speaker Series event, Saving the Puma.
On New Year’s Day, Senate Bill 132 went into effect, which allows the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with nongovernmental groups in capturing, tranquilizing or relocating the animals. With this new bill, and the new and improved policies of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wardens and their supporting organizations will capture or scare off mountain lions unless they pose an imminent threat to people or public safety. Oakland Zoo is honored to help with this progressive effort.
In fact, Oakland Zoo has embraced mountain lion conservation in many ways. As we join forces with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we are committed to both participate in response to mountain lion conflict calls, and to offer care for a mountain lion in need of recovery before it is hopefully released back into the wild. We are also assisting the Bay Area Puma Project with their vital research and launching various outreach and education programs to create greater mountain lion awareness.
What a joy to look out into those hills and feel thanks to working alliances, our own conservation village, there is hope for a peaceful co-existence with our very own native lion.
Helpful links about Mountain Lions and more
- Avoid encounters with mountain lions: www.bapp.org/living-with-pumas
- If you do encounter a mountain lion, here’s how to handle it: www.bapp.org/if-you-see-a-puma
- Safeguard your home, pets and domestic animals: www.felidaefund.org
- If you have a sighting and want to report it: www.bapp.org/report-a-sighting
- If you see a mountain lion in a developed area, it will probably leave on its own, but if it seems threatening or injured call 911.
- If you would like to learn more about Human-Wildlife Conflict: www.humanwildlifeconflict.org