A UCSC Cruz Alert was sent out on November 28 warning of two mountain lions spotted near the base of the UCSC campus. Mountain lions do occasionally move through campus property, due to the many preserved acres of land in Upper Campus and Pogonip, and the adjacency of large protected areas including Wilder Ranch and Henry Cowell State Parks. The actual presence of mountain lions on the UCSC campus is not particularly out of the ordinary; mountain lions regularly have to move amongst developed areas in the Santa Cruz Mountains due to the high human footprint that fragments our wild habitats.
Despite the presence of mountain lions near the UCSC campus, the probability of a negative encounter with a mountain lion is low. Conflicts with mountain lions are almost impossibly rare in California. Although millions of people live and recreate in mountain lion habitat every day in California, there have only been three physical encounters in the state in the last ten years, all of which were non-lethal. (For more information on mountain lion attacks in California, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage at: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/lion/attacks.html)
Although negative encounters with mountain lions are unlikely, it is never a bad decision to be informed and use safe practices when living near wild places. Always be aware of your surroundings, and try to walk with a buddy at night near forested areas. If you do come across a puma, remember the following steps: 1) do not run; 2) raise your hands over your head; 3) make noise. In nearly all cases, the mountain lion will be deterred by these actions and walk or run away. In the rare case of an attack, fight back. Please read more about living with pumas at http://santacruzpumas.org/mountain-lion-faq/.
Remember 46M, the puma that wandered into downtown Mountain View a few months ago? Well he had quite a journey for the last 5 months until he was hit by a car on Hwy 280 a few days ago. After capturing him in downtown Mt. View and releasing him back in the mountains from where he came, he resumed his northward trek until he hit Pacifica and Milagra ridge and couldn’t head north anymore without hitting a sea of development. Then he turned around and headed south hugging highway 280 to his east until he found what appears to be an underpass that led him into a patch of fertile ground on either side of Crystal Springs road just to the east of 280. He stayed in this roughly 1 square km area for at least 2 weeks feeding on what appears to be an abundant deer population there. He then headed north again to Pacifica, before backtracking south again to the hills east of 280 near San Carlos. He stayed there for a number of days making a living killing deer in the small patches of open space that remain in this highly developed area. Finally he tried to cross 280 again but was not so fortunate this time around.
A number of observations strike me in looking at his track.
1 – This is completely normal behavior for a dispersing (i.e. young animals that are looking for a new home) mountain lion. Notice that he is often on the edge of open space. This is a pattern we have observed before with other dispersing animals. Most likely they are either avoiding more dominant animals that currently occupy those territories, and/or they are looking for a way to cross a barrier (such as 280).
2 – Mountain lions are very shy. This guy was a stone’s throw away from people’s houses for much of the last 5 months, and yet we are not aware of any conflicts between him and people or even of any reported sightings of him. In fact, all the areas that he explored probably have regular visits by adult mountain lions that have territories covering those areas.
3 – The way he died is avoidable. Each year millions of animals ranging in size from salamanders to mountain lions are killed on roadways. A lot of these deaths occur because there are no viable options for animals to cross roads that don’t involve crossing asphalt. In many places, roads are the leading cause of death and population decline of our wild animals. But we could install wildlife crossing structures, such as underpasses or overpasses, when designing and retrofitting roads. Denmark, a country not much bigger than the Bay Area, has over 200 such wildlife crossing structures. Why not here? I think it is largely that people simply aren’t aware that this is such a huge problem. So spread the word!
We would like to send our thoughts and sympathies to the little boy who was attacked by a mountain lion in Cupertino today and to his family. We hope he has a very quick and thorough recovery.
We have information about what to do if you encounter a mountain lion on our FAQ.
Last night, KSBW reported on the very exciting progress the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is making towards creating wildlife connectivity across Highway 17.
The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County is working on purchasing 290 acres of land that straddles Laurel Curve, one of Highway 17′s most notorious turns for both motorists and wildlife. Once the land has been acquired, the plan is to instal a wildlife crossing tunnel to safely connect the habitat on each side of Highway 17. This new structure will provide two major benefits: It will allow wildlife to move around the landscape safely, and it will protect people by lowering the risk of motorists colliding with wildlife.
Across the US, there are over one million automobile collisions with deer each year, causing roughly 200 human fatalities. In fact, you are far more likely to be killed hitting a deer with your car than you are to be attacked a mountain lion. High speed collisions with wildlife don’t end well for either party involved, and creating safe ways for wildlife to cross dangerous highways, such as Highway 17, will help protect everyone.
Every month, one of our biologists goes up in a plane to try to locate all of our study animals and download the GPS information from their collars. Flying is the most efficient way to download the GPS data because we can cover much more ground than driving. We are lucky to work with pilot Mark Dedon, who has been flying us around for the last three years.
Before the flight, Paul and Mark must first attach the antennae to the plane so that Paul can listen for the puma’s location in the air and then download its data once located.
Once the antennae are secured, then it’s time to go airborne. Mark flies around as Paul listens for VHF signals from puma collars. Once he hears one, he asks Mark to fly closer to the target animal and uses his receiver to communicate with the animal’s collar.
Those with weak stomachs or small bladders don’t do very well on these telemetry flights because the plane often has to circle above the animal for many minutes while the collar download is completed. To find all of our study cats, which range from Corralitos to Palo Alto, it usually takes several hours of zigzagging up and down the Santa Cruz Mountains.
From a thousand feet up, the impacts of habitat fragmentation and loss is really evident across many parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s not hard to look down into the trees and imagine a puma moving through the forest not far from a road or trail. Without a bird’s eye view of where “civilization” begins and “wilderness” ends, it’s impressive that pumas can manage to have so little interaction with humans.