Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center

Human Interaction, Attitudes and Behavior

As the population of California grows and development expands into mountain lion habitat, conflicts are bound to occur. A more detailed knowledge of potential conflict points is essential to avoiding tragedies for humans, their pets, and wildlife. Our team has been especially concerned with educating the public about ways to avoid unnecessary risk when living or recreating in mountain lion country.

Avoiding backcountry trails at twilight or dark, protecting pets and livestock from potential attacks, learning to see the world through the eyes of wildlife -- these are things that can be learned and can help. For example, knowing that cougars prefer to eat deer over most other things is helpful, but it teaches us that where there are deer, there are likely to be lions too, at least in western North America.

Photo: human on trail at 9 pmPhoto: lion on trail at 3:40 am

Chart: mountain lion distances from trails

Our data suggests cougars utilize wildlands at times that are near human development, or part of human development, especially golf courses and greenbelts that abut wildlands. This may be due to the density of prey species present in these areas, or other factors.  Since avoidance of areas dominated by humans is the more common accepted behavior of cougars, we are attempting to learn more about this behavior pattern.  We are gathering more data on prey species density, cougar feeding patterns, cougar response to human presence, and cougar response to roads in these areas.

Death secondary to a depredation permit being issued for killing a domestic animal remains a leading cause of death (tied with car strikes) for cougars in our study.  We feel that this phenomenon is mostly preventable and is predominantly the result of inadequate knowledge or willful or accidental failures of animal husbandry practices (inadequate protection of domestic animals adjacent to or in wildland settings).  To attempt to reduce losses of domestic animals and cougars, we have continued to try to educate owners of domestic pets and livestock at the wildland edge about proper housing measures for their animals that can reduce the risk of predation by cougars.