Monday, August 23, 2010

Mountain Lion Tracking Maps

You might wonder how an animal the size of a mountain lion can sustain itself in the "wild" these days with the degree of development in California's coastal counties. The answer I used to think was true is that there are a lot of rabbits out there, but I never really believed that myself. The real answer is: mountain lions move. A lot.

In radio tagging studies you can see the incredible amounts of territory they
cover, stopping occasionally in clusters (presumably to eat a big kill). This one in particular came down from almost Mission Viejo to East County near the border. The amazing thing is the amount of mileage the lion covered during 9 days, from April 19th to 28th.

If you click on it you'll see a much bigger version that you can read better, but here you can still see the little tyke in the lower left, still with his kitten-spots. I'm shamelessly fascinated by camera traps and tracking studies like this, for any large animal. Same for sharks and sea turtles and anything else you can put a tag on. There's something almost wizard-like about knowing the secret lives of animals this way but at the same time it's amazing how little we still know.

You can read more about these cases here, here and here. Unfortunately the "tragic" lion that the stories focus on had killed multiple domestic animals (sheep). Ranchers have to make a living and people have to be safe, and lions can legally be killed when they become a nuisance to life and property.

It's still a damn shame that co-existence has become so difficult. Part of our heritage as Americans is the self-reliance and independence that comes from spending time out in the back country where these kinds of critters thrive, even if it's for just an afternoon - in a place where your own life and health and enjoyment are for the moment solely your concern and responsibility. I think we lose a lot of we don't preserve that for ourselves and our kids.

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