Coexistence FAQ

Cougar Conservancy

Coexistence FAQs

Sightings and Observations

A wildlife sighting occurs when someone directly witnesses a wild animal or indirectly witnesses its presence using a trail camera.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR). https://apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. Accessed 14 Sept 2021. Cougar Conservancy. 2021. Assistance. https://cougarconservancy.org/assistance. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

CDFW Regulations, Policies, and Law Enforcement

The goal of this section is to increase public understanding on policy as it relates to California’s cougars.

CDFW Regulations

Cougars have been legally classified as a “specially protected mammal” since Proposition 117 was passed in 1990. It is illegal to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell a cougar or any part of or product made from a cougar because they are specially protected.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is prohibited from developing hunting seasons or hunting quotas for cougars due to their legal status.

In 2020, the Fish and Game Commission designated cougar populations located in Southern California and along the Central Coast as candidate species under California’s Endangered Species Act (CESA). Under CESA, species classified as a candidate species are afforded the same protection as listed species.

CDFW is anticipated to complete their status review of the candidate populations in early 2022. The Fish and Game Commission will then vote on this historic decision in early 2022

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021. California Fish and Game Commission [CFGC]. 2021. Mountain Lion. https://fgc.ca.gov/CESA#ml. Accessed 14 Sep 2021. Center for Biological Diversity. 2021. Saving the California Mountain LIon. http://savecalifornialions.org/. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has a public trust responsibility to protect and conserve California’s fish and wildlife.

CDFW strives to conserve cougar populations for their ecological and intrinsic values. To meet this goal, staff and agency partners work to:

● Maintain genetically diverse and demographically viable populations;
● Minimize conflicts between cougars and humans (e.g., public safety events, property damage);
● Identify and protect important habitats; and
● Improve public awareness of cougars; and
● Identify and research emerging issues that threaten cougar populations or the habitats upon which they depend.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Poaching

Poaching is defined as the illegal take of fish and wildlife. Poaching a cougar is any take of a cougar not officially permitted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife through the proper channels. Poachers devastate the state’s natural resources by breaking laws designed to assure proper wildlife management and species survival, and its full impact on California’s ecology is impossible to gauge.

An adult male cougar M-294, otherwise known as “Scar” and “El Cobre,” from the endangered subpopulation within the Santa Ana Mountain range was illegally shot and killed in June of 2021, presumably in retaliation for several widely publicized depredation events. The loss of a mature male with an established territory such as Scar can have devastating consequences for a cougar subpopulation as vulnerable as the one in the Santa Anas, including the possibility of local male extinction as well as the potential for increased human-cougar conflicts with multiple dispersing male cougars competing to fill the vacuum left by a dominant individual.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. CalTIP – Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Enforcement/CalTIP. Accessed 14 Sep 2021. 

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. CESA to the Federal Endangered Species Act. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/CESA/FESA. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

If you witness a poaching, polluting incident, or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll free CalTIP number 1-888-334-CALTIP (888 334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or you may submit anonymous tips to CDFW using tip 411.

Information from the call is relayed to the CDFW region where the offense occurred and an investigation is undertaken locally. If the information supplied by the caller results in an arrest the caller becomes eligible for a reward. (Rewards up to $1,000 have been paid.) The case is then reviewed by a volunteer citizen’s group known as the CalTIP Rewards Committee.

If the poaching incident involves a cougar you can also report it to the Cougar Conservancy online, emailing director@cougarconservancy.org, or by calling the Conflict Hotline at 1-800-930-1087.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. CalTIP – Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Enforcement/CalTIP. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

A person who illegally takes, possesses, imports, exports, sells, purchases, barters, trades, or exchanges a cougar, or part of a cougar, for profit or personal gain, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $40,000, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

If a person is convicted of a second or subsequent violation, that person shall be punished by a fine of not less than $10,000 nor more than fifty $50,000, or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year, or by both fine and imprisonment.

A person that illegally takes a cougar belonging to subpopulations with candidate status under California Endangered Species Act will be fined $25,000 to $50,000, imprisoned for one year, or both. Subsequent violations will result in imprisonment for up to five years.

California Legislative Information. 2021. AB-645 Fish and wildlife: poaching: penalties: probation period. https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB645. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. Choosing the right CESA permit. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/CESA/Permitting/Permits

CDFW Policies

Take is an umbrella term that means to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill. This definition ensures that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife can maintain legal control over actions interfering with threatened, endangered and fully protected animals, which include cougars, even where those actions may not have been intended to kill or hurt the animal.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. CESA to the Federal Endangered Species Act. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/CESA/FESA. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

The lethal take of a cougar is only lawful 1) if a depredation permit is issued to take a specific cougar that has injured or killed livestock or pets; 2) to preserve public safety; or 3) to protect listed bighorn sheep.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has implemented a three-step protocol for obtaining depredation permits to provide additional protections for Central Coastal and Southern California cougar populations. This procedure requires non-lethal options to be exhausted before a permit can be issued.

Research involving the pursuit and capture of cougars is included under the legal definition of take and must be authorized by CDFW via issuance of a Scientific Collecting Permit.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2013. Human / Wildlife Interactions in California: Mountain Lion Depredation, Public Safety, and Animal Welfare policy. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=68271&inline. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2017. Human/Wildlife Interactions in California: Mountain Lion Depredation, Public Safety, and Animal Welfare – Amendment to Department Bulletin 2013-02. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=153021&inline. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2020. CDFW Memo: Amendment to Boundaries and Permit Requirements. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177324&inline. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

A depredation incident involving a cougar requires that a cougar is either immediately threatening to cause damage, in the act of causing damage, or one that has already caused damage to private property, including livestock and pets.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2017. Human/Wildlife Interactions in California: Mountain Lion Depredation, Public Safety, and Animal Welfare – Amendment to Department Bulletin 2013-02. https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=153021&inline. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is the agency responsible for the issuance of depredation permits to individuals reporting livestock loss or property damage caused by cougars, if CDFW confirms the depredation has been caused by cougars.

Reporting parties, such as property owners and tenants, may report suspected depredation incidents using the online CDFW Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR) system. A CDFW investigator (Wildlife Biologist or Wildlife Officer) will be automatically assigned for response, based on the geographic location of the reported incident.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. Wildlife Incident Reporting (WIR). https://apps.wildlife.ca.gov/wir. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Law Enforcement

Imminent threat means there is a likelihood of human injury based on the totality of the circumstances as determined via field investigation by the responding law enforcement officer or California Department of Fish and Wildlife employee.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Law enforcement designates public safety incidents. Those responding to a scene could be a California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Wildlife Officer or Environmental Scientist, Sheriff, Police, Park Ranger, or Forest Service Enforcement.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Biology, Behavior, and Ecology

Cougar Biology

Common names for the species Puma concolor include mountain lion, puma, cougar, lion, catamount, or and panther. The scientific name for cougars is Puma concolor, which refers to their uniform coat color – concolor means “of the same color” in latin. In fact, there are so many unique and regionally specific names for cougars that the species holds the Guinness World Record for mammal with the most common names — between multiple indigenous languages, English, Spanish, and Portuguese cougars have 84 recorded names.

Barnes, C. T. 1960. The cougar or mountain lion. Page 176. Ralton Company, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.

The National Wildlife Federation [NWF]. 2021. Mountain lion. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 20 June 2021.

Guinness World Records. 2021. Mammal with the most names. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/78143-mammal-with-the-most-names. Accessed 14 Sep 2021. 

Cougars are almost uniformly beige with a cream-colored belly and dark markings on both sides of their muzzle. The back of the ears and tip of the tail are black. Cougars are only spotted as juveniles, and have rounded ears and long thick tails (the tail is nearly as long as the body). Adult cougars in California tend to weigh between 70 and 150 lbs.

Grigione, M. M., P. Beier, R. A. Hopkins, D. Neal, W. D. Padley, C. M. Schonewald, and M. L. Johnson. 2002.  Ecological and allometric determinants of home-range size for mountain lions (Puma concolor). Animal Conservation 5:317-324.

The National Wildlife Federation [NWF]. 2021. Mountain lion. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 20 June 2021.

Cougars, bobcats, and house cats all belong to the family Felidae but vary considerably in size and appearance. Cougars are the largest felid in California weighing between 70 and 150 lbs, while bobcats are only 12 to 25 lbs on average, and domestic cats are even shorter and smaller than bobcats.

Bobcats have pointy ears with a black tuft on the top and a white spot on the back of them, a ruff of fur on their face, banding on their legs and face, and a short bobbed tail with a white underside. The back of a cougar’s more rounded ears are solid black and the tip of the tail is solid black all the way around. 

A bobcat’s tail is much shorter than its body, while a cougar’s tail is as long as its body. Domestic cats can have long or short tails so their size and variety of coat colors are the most reliable cues for distinguishing them from wild felids.

For a visual representation of the differences between cougars, bobcats, and domestic cats, check out this graphic created by the National Park Service.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife [CDFW]. 2021. Keep Me Wild: Mountain Lion. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Keep-Me-Wild/Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

National Park Service. 2021. Bobcats: Living on the Urban Edge. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/nature/bobcats.htm. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Cougar Behavior

Cougars can be spotted any time day or night as they move throughout their ranges. Spotting a cougar during the day does not suggest abnormal behavior or that there is a threat to public safety. Cougars are often more active at night or during crepuscular times, around sunrise and sunset. Where people live and recreate, cougars may be more nocturnal (active at night).

Individual cougars, like people, can also vary significantly in their activity patterns. Two adult male cougars studied by the National Park Service, P-22 and P-41, occupied home ranges in isolated natural areas, and they altered their behavior relative to developed areas by time-of-day more than other animals.

Beier, P. 1995. Dispersal of juvenile cougars in fragmented habitat. The Journal of Wildlife Management 59:228-237.

Nickel, B. A., J. P. S. Suraci, M. L. Allen, and C. C. Wilmers. 2020. Human presence and human footprint have non-equivalent effects on wildlife spatiotemporal habitat use. Biological Conservation 241:1-11.

Riley, S. P. D., J. A. Sikich, J. F. Benson. 2021. Big Cats in the Big City: Spatial Ecology of Mountain Lions in Greater Los Angeles. The Journal of Wildlife Management. In Press.

Throughout most of the cougar’s range, deer represent cougars’ preferred prey, but this can vary by region and what type of prey is most abundant. There are cougar populations that specialize in other ungulate species besides deer such as bighorn sheep, wild pigs, elk, and even wild horses. Cougars, like many carnivore species, are also intraguild predators, meaning they are known to consume coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and bobcats.

Cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains consume a deer a week on average. As of 2021, National Park Service researchers have analyzed more than 700 kills in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, of which 87% were mule deer while the second-most common prey was coyote and then raccoon.

National Park Service [NPS]. 2021. Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/nature/pumapage.htm. Accessed 8 June 2021.

National Wildlife Federation [NWF]. 2021. Mountain lion. https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 20 June 2021.

In general, cougars have a much less specific breeding time than most carnivores and can reproduce throughout the year. Cougars in areas that experience harsh winters may have a more restrictive breeding season, and reproductive timing can also be influenced by prey abundance and climate. Most cougar kittens are born between April and September in North America. Cougars in Southern California breed all year round because the climate is so consistent.

Beier, P. 1995. Dispersal of juvenile cougars in fragmented habitat. The Journal of Wildlife Management 59:228-237.

Currier, P. 1983. Felis concolor. Mammalian Species 200:1-7.

Pierce, B. M. and V. C. Bleich. 2003. Mountain Lion. Pages 744-757 in G. A. Feldhamer, B. C. Thompson, and J. A. Chapman, editors. Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation. 2nd edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Cougar Ecology

An umbrella species is one with expansive habitat requirements that when conserved will also protect a multitude of other species that share the same habitat.

In Southern California, the protection of genetically distinct cougar populations has required the conservation of approximately 4,000 square miles of natural habitat, including areas that comprise one of only 36 “biodiversity hotspots” in the world. Cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains serve as an umbrella species for 50 mammal, 35 reptile and amphibian, almost 400 bird and over 1,000 plant species. 

Dellinger, J. A., K. D. Gustafson, D. J. Gammons, H. B. Ernest, and S. G. Torres. 2020. Minimum habitat thresholds required for conserving mountain lion genetic diversity. Ecology and Evolution 10:10687-10696.

Thorne, J. H., D. Cameron, and J. F. Quinn. 2006. A conservation design for the Central Coast of California and the evaluation of mountain lion as an umbrella species. Natural Areas Association 26:137-148. 

CDFW recognizes their 1990s estimate of 4,000 to 6,000 cougars populating California as likely a great overestimate of how many cougars currently occupy the state. Research efforts by CDFW staff are currently underway to update this estimate based on what the Department now knows about statewide distribution of deer populations and usable natural habitat, which should be available to the public by 2022.

It is important to recognize that all population estimates are only approximations and that it is especially difficult to get solid numbers on an elusive and wide-ranging species without markings that can be used to clearly identify individual animals.

In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified cougars globally as a population of “Least Concern,” but noting the population trend as “declining” in some regions.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Mountain Lions in California. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion. Accessed 14 Sep 2021.

Nielsen, C., D. Thompson, M. Kelly, and C. A. Lopez-Gonzalez. 2015. Puma concolor (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T18868A97216466. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T18868A50663436.en. Accessed 14 Oct 2021.

Conservation

Threats to Cougars

In small, genetically isolated cougar subpopulations at risk of extinction, every individual counts towards the overall viability of the subpopulation. This is particularly true for reproductive adults, and most of all for adult males. The home range of 1 adult male cougar overlaps with those of approximately 3 female cougars that may or may not be related to one another. This bias in the sex ratio, the higher risk of male cougar mortalities from human causes or other cougars, and the possibility of random events such as wildfires causing mortality makes occasional male extinctions possible. If this occurs, emergency interventions such as translocation may be necessary as a last-ditch effort to prevent extinction.

Wildland-Urban Interface

Avoiding the cache site for a week or so to allow the cougar to finish feeding and move on can help reduce conflict with cougars or any other wild animals that might territorially defend a carcass. If the carcass is cached in an unsafe location that may force cougars and people to interact, report the observation to the Cougar Conservancy through their assistance webpage (www.cougarconservancy.org/assistance), by emailing director@cougarconservancy.org, or by calling the Conflict Hotline at 1-800-930-1087.

In some cases, removal of the carcass may be the appropriate action to take. This should be determined by California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists or wildlife officers, who may also be able to assist with carcass removal.

If a cached carcass is on a property and must be removed to prevent conflict, individuals who own the animals on that property are financially responsible for carcass removal. Persons with financial barriers may be eligible for the Cougar Conservancy’s Carcass Disposal Program.

Alldredge, M. W., F. E. Buderman, and K. A. Blecha. 2019. Human-cougar interactions in the wildland-urban interface of Colorado’s front range. Ecology and Evolution 9:10415-10431.

Benson, J. F., J. A. Sikich, and S. P. D. Riley. 2016. Individual and population level resource selection patterns of mountain lions preying on mule deer along an urban-wildland gradient. PLoS ONE 11:1-16.

Killing cougars on depredation permits is not a long term solution to conflicts with domestic animals. The National Park Service study of cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains has documented multiple depredation events on 17 properties, with 10 of these properties involving different cougars visiting the same site. One single property has seen at least six individual cougars cause a depredation over the years (J. Sikich, National Park Service, personal communication).

 

If a lethal depredation permit results in the removal of a territorial adult male cougar this can result in less experienced, juvenile males moving into an area to vy for territory. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, subadult male cougars are the most represented demographic among cougars that come into conflict with domestic animals.

 

When depredation occurs, it is not usually the fault of a single “bad actor.” We know that all cougars hunt opportunistically and that unprotected domestic animals can present easier hunting opportunities than wild prey. The lethal removal of individual ‘guilty’ cougars will never prevent future conflicts because killing cougars doesn’t fix the animal husbandry practices that allow depredation to occur.

Depredation may occur despite cougars having access to natural prey because cougars are opportunistic hunters that don’t make conscious distinctions between wild and domesticated animals like we do.

Cougars must struggle to meet their energetic needs with natural food resources, as most hunting attempts don’t result in successful kills and wild animals often fight to defend themselves, which can result in a cougar’s injury or death. In contrast, an improperly housed, vulnerable, and inexperienced domestic animal can represent an easy meal that can save a cougar much needed time, energy, and perceived risk.

Cougars don’t prefer domestic animals per se, but many cougars will prey on unprotected animals if given the opportunity. Most of the kills made by cougars analyzed by the National Park Service were deer in the Santa Monica Mountains and even individual cougars that were involved in multiple depredation events continued to kill natural prey. In the Santa Ana Mountains, deer was the most common prey as well with the second and third most frequent prey being coyotes and raccoons.

Blecha, K. A., R. B. Boone, M. W. Alldredge, and J. Gaillard. 2018. Hunger mediates apex predator’s risk avoidance response in wildland-urban interface. The Journal of Animal Ecology 87:609-622.

National Park Service [NPS]. 2021. Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/nature/pumapage.htm. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Domestic animals that are small, have minimal to no antipredator response, and that are confined in a non-secure enclosures are most at risk of depredation because predators can mistake them for an easily accessible food resource.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife makes depredation statistics publicly available online and found that in property damage reports between 2016 and 2020 goats were the most reported followed by sheep, with these two species typically accounting for the majority of depredation cases. Less frequently depredated species include alpacas, llamas, pigs, horses, fowl, cattle, house cats, and dogs. 

It is the responsibility of those caring for domestic animals to ensure that their housing provides adequate protection from native wild predators as these wild animals are crucial to the health of the environment.

https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=178897&inline

Lucherini, M. 2018. Surplus killing by pumas Puma concolor: rumours and facts. Mammal Review 48:277-283.

There is no evidence to suggest that depredation increases the risk of a cougar behaving aggressively towards people. A cougar killing a domestic animal is no more dangerous to people than a cougar killing a deer – in either case, there is no connection to people.

Surplus killing, when predators kill more prey that they can eat, is a normal behavior for predators including cougars, though it is specific circumstances that enable them to accomplish this. Surplus killings happen when animals cannot get out of an enclosure, but a cougar can get in.

Cougars can squeeze through small gaps in an enclosure, or fall through unsecure roofs. In the wild, when a cougar goes after a group of deer, they all have the opportunity to run, and a cougar is lucky to capture one individual. In an environment where animals cannot run away, a cougar’s natural instincts to chase and kill prey can get directed towards every animal that can’t escape. This occurs with other predators as well, such with foxes enclosed with chickens (“the fox in the henhouse”).

A cougar that depredates multiple animals in a night is not “bloodthirsty” or abnormal, but acting naturally under circumstances that are deeply unfortunate to us.  

Lucherini, M. 2018. Surplus killing by pumas Puma concolor: rumours and facts. Mammal Review 48:277-283.

There are many ways to prevent conflict and promote coexistence with cougars and other wildlife at home and on the trail. Eliminating attractants, landscaping practices that reduce cover, keeping pets indoors, specially trained livestock guardian dogs, and appropriate fencing and infrastructure that exclude cougars, aversive conditioning, hazing, and keeping dogs leashed are common strategies for deterring harassment of domestic animals.

See ‘Efficacy of Nonlethal Tools’ for a comprehensive list of coexistence tools and what we currently know about their effectiveness.

Anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs) are rodent poisons sold in the form of food bait that entices rodents and other animals to ingest and die slowly from internal bleeding. The use of ARs is widespread in both residential and commercial sectors.

Secondary poisoning occurs when predators consume the ARs stored in the bodies of poisoned prey. Cougar prey species like coyotes and raccoons that are predators themselves become poisoned secondarily. Tertiary poisoning then occurs when a cougar consumes a poisoned predator.

ARs are killing non-target species at alarming rates in California. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife found that over 80% of tested bobcats, foxes, coyotes, hawks, owls, and 95% of cougars were exposed to ARs. Over 70% of these cougars tested positive for more than 3 distinct ARs, which suggests multiple points of exposure.

Experts doubt that imperiled cougar populations in Central Coastal and Southern California can afford rodenticide casualties, which is alarming given the overwhelming prevalence of cougar poison exposure in these regions.

The deaths of seven cougars (as of August 2021) studied by the National Park Service as part of a long-term study of the population, were directly attributable to rodenticide poisoning. Poisoning is on par with vehicles and intraspecific conflict as an important cause of death in this small at-risk subpopulation.

More research is necessary to determine whether poison exposure contributes to other forms of human-caused mortality such as depredation or vehicle strikes, but a strong link has been made in bobcats between rodenticides and lethal incidence of a parasitic skin disease, notoedric mange.

#BreakThePoisonChain is a public awareness campaign started by NPS to empower people to use poison-free methods to resolve rodent conflicts.

California Department of Pesticide Regulation [CDPR]. 2018. An investigation of anticoagulant rodenticide data submitted to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Sacramento, CA, USA.

Moriarty, J. G., S. P. D. Riley, L. E. Serieys, J. A. Sikich, C. M. Schoonmaker, and R. H. Poppenga. 2012. Exposure of wildlife to anticoagulant rodenticides at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: from mountain lions to rodents. Proceedings of the 25th Vertebrate Pest Conference:144-148.

National Park Service [NPS]. 2014. Griffith Park mountain lion exposed to poison, suffering from mange. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/news/gp-lion-exposed-to-poison.htm. Accessed 8 June 2021.

National Park Service [NPS]. 2019. Avoiding Unintentional Poisoning. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/management/rodenticides.htm#:~:text=The%20use%20of%20anticoagulant%20rodenticide%20poison%20to%20control,and%20local%20wildlife%20are%20at%20risk%20of%20exposure. Accessed 8 June 2021.

The Precautionary Principle suggests that even if impacts are unknown, the use of pesticides and pollutants should be minimized just in case there are unforeseen consequences. Pesticides are designed to kill their organisms they target but often have adverse effects on non-target species.

 

When pesticides must be used they should be used with strict adherence to standard operating procedures and properly disposed of after use so that they do not pollute the environment. Pollution is one of the greatest threats on earth to biodiversity, and cougars as a top predator in the food chain are extremely vulnerable to the bioaccumulation of toxins through secondary and tertiary poisoning.

California Department of Pesticide Regulation [CDPR]. 2018. An investigation of anticoagulant rodenticide data submitted to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Sacramento, CA, USA.

Although the exact total is not known, throughout California, an estimated 100 cougars are killed by vehicle strikes annually. According to the National Park Service, vehicles have killed 24 cougars, 10 of them study animals, between 2002 and August 2021 in the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding mountain ranges near LA.

Pollard, L. 2016. 100+ Calif. Mountain Lions a year killed by motor vehicles. Public News Service.

National Park Service [NPS]. 2021. Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. https://www.nps.gov/samo/learn/nature/pumapage.htm. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Low light hours around dusk, dawn, and nighttime may increase the risk of wildlife vehicle collisions as many species are more active during these times, especially in highly developed areas. Please observe legal speed limits and other traffic laws designed to promote road safety, such as properly maintaining all headlights and clear visibility through windshields and windows. Be attentive and don’t be distracted while diving. Distracted driving is driving while doing another activity that takes your attention away from driving. Deer often graze along the edges of roads and highways, so drivers should always be vigilant for oncoming wildlife, especially during low light conditions during fog and rain.

Cougars and other wildlife are most vulnerable to vehicle strikes where roads bisect natural travel corridors—areas that connect one habitat patch to another. Communities have the opportunity to plan placement of roads that have yet to be built such that habitat fragmentation does not occur. Existing transportation infrastructure can be retrofitted with overpasses or underpasses as well. These engineering feats are becoming commonplace worldwide due to their overwhelming success at reducing human-wildlife conflicts.  

Benson, J. F., J. A. Sikich, and S. P. D. Riley. 2020. Survival and competing mortality risks of mountain lions in a major metropolitan area. Biological Conservation 241:1-6.

Smith, J. A., T. P. Duane, and C. C. Wilmers. 2019. Moving through the matrix: promoting permeability for large carnivores in a human dominated landscape. Landscape and Urban Planning 183:50-58.