One of the many things that makes Los Angeles such a unique urban area is that its surroundings are wild enough to support a sizable (and growing) population of mountain lions. But are these large felines really so wild? A new study by UCLA and the National Park Service finds that the mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains tend to hunt surprisingly close to residential and even urban communities. That’s especially true of female mountain lions, which make most kills within one mile of developed areas.
The researchers discovered that the animals often prowl in and around some of the most desirable neighborhoods in the LA area, including Bel Air, Pacific Palisades, Malibu, and Calabasas. Are these mountain lions celeb-stalking? Looking for a taste of the sweet life?
Probably not. Researchers suspect female lions gravitate toward populated areas because that’s where they are least likely to encounter their more ornery male counterparts. Extremely territorial by nature, males often kill other mountain lions of either gender—including their own offspring.
Both sexes survive on a steady diet of mule deer, and males tend to search for prey in wooded areas close to water. Females, on the other hand, seem to have figured out that deer also enjoy feasting on the lush, over-watered lawns of Southern California’s most affluent communities.
Though the female lions do a lot of hunting close to urbanized areas, residents need not worry too much about predatory cats ambushing them in their backyards. Only two of 420 kills recorded in the study actually took place inside a developed area. This seems to suggest the lions are waiting to catch deer on their way home from town, so to speak.
According to a UCLA press release, Los Angeles is one of only two major cities worldwide where large feline predators live side-by-side with humans. Living in such an environment can be treacherous for the mountain lions of Southern California. They face a number of threats, including automobile traffic and the effects of rat poison that cats in less urban environments do not face.
For years, Caltrans has been discussing the possibility of building a wildlife bridge that crosses the 101. That would allow mountain lions to safely travel to and from the Santa Monica mountain range. Currently the 15-or-so lions that live there are essentially hemmed in by freeways, severely shrinking the gene pool.
In April, the LA City Council voted to draft an ordinance creating a "wildlife corridor" through the range that would protect trails the animals frequent from future development projects.
- Los Angeles is a metropolitan den for mountain lions [UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability]
- Individual and Population Level Resource Selection Patterns of Mountain Lions Preying on Mule Deer along an Urban-Wildland Gradient [PLOS One]
- LA Wants to Protect Mountain Lion Trails From Development [Curbed LA]
- Video: Inside the Hard Lives of Los Angeles Mountain Lions [Curbed LA]