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MOUNTAIN LIONS IN CALIFORNIA: EXPANDING THE DIALOGUE
No species of native wildlife has been more controversial in California than the mountain lion. This fierce, beautiful mammal, an icon of wildlife in the Golden State, remains a living link to our proud and rugged outdoor heritage. It inspires awe, respect and passion.
During the last two years, mountain lions have also become vivid symbols of the conflicts between people and nature. Long relegated in our minds to the woods and mountain heights, they are now showing up in suburbs, backyards and school grounds. People are understandably concerned. In 1994, two women died after mountain lion attacks while confirmed deaths and injuries to pets and livestock have increased significantly.
These incidents rekindled the passionate public debate about mountain lion management, including depredation permits, hunting and other control measures. Some people want a more aggressive policy that removes lions from areas where they pose a danger while others suggest humans are the intruders. As you will see in the following articles, the issues are not as clear cut as extremists on all sides might portray them. Protecting this magnificent mammal and protecting the public requires knowledge of mountain lion habits and habitats and what has drawn them into conflict with people, information we make available in this issue.
The debate enters a new phase with the decision by the Legislature and Governor Pete Wilson to place the fate of the California mountain lion on the March, 1996 ballot. Mountain lion issues, for all practical purposes, must be resolved by public vote ever since a 1990 initiative restricted Department of Fish and Game management of the species. That measure designated the mountain lion a "specially protected mammal," the only one so designated in California law. It takes a four-fifths vote by the Legislature to change that law, meaning any nine senators or 17 assembly members can block action.
By focus in attention on mountain lions in this issue, the DFG hopes to expand the dialogue among people with differing interests in the species. We hope to provide sound scientific information, outline public policy choices and discuss sound management programs that would become possible if the mountain lion law is changed. If we, the people of California, are to choose the best options for coexisting with the mountain lion, we need to break the trend of polarized debate, replacing it with reasoned discussion based on the best available scientific information.
Meanwhile, DFG frequently fields questions about protecting oneself and one's family.
Is it safe to hike in rural areas? How do I protect my family? What should we do?
These are legitimate questions that deserve answers. We hope you will find those answers and more in this special issue of OUTDOOR CALIFORNIA.
DFG RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL WILDLIFE by Charles F. Raysbrook
The California Department of Fish and Game has primary responsibility for managing and protecting all fish and wildlife, including their habitat, in the public interest. We do not represent the exclusive views of a narrow segment of the public on any issue, especially one as complex as mountain lion management. Our public trust responsibility for wildlife sets the stage for our activities. However, protecting the public and alleviating damage to private property are equally important priorities.
What does a balanced approach mean? Examples of the public trust role include responding to animal welfare needs - such as caring for sick, injured or orphaned young mountain lions - and developing contingency plans for dealing with mountain lions which show up in residential areas. But it may also involve removing a mountain lion that threatens or attacks a human, as well as confirming cases and removing mountain lions that kill livestock and pets. In addition, we may need to step in to prevent excess predation by mountain lions on small populations of prey, such as threatened California bighorn sheep.
Charles F. Raysbrook is the Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Fish and Game.
DFG goals for managing mountain lions
Maintain healthy populations Minimize threats to people, property, and other wildlife Protect important habitats Recognize ecological role and value Monitor populations and conduct research Improve public awareness
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED ABOUT LIONS by Terry Mansfield
Mountain lions have generated an increasing number of questions for Department of Fish and Game biologists in recent years. How many lions are in California? What is the trend in the lion population? Why are lions showing up more often around people? Lawmakers and the public need answers to these questions to review proposals to change mountain lion policies and laws.
One thing we know for sure about mountain lions - they can adapt to a wide variety of environments. Study them in one area and they prove you wrong in another. As in all fields of science, new ideas and new studies challenge the old. Some information collected by the DFG does not fit expectations based on studies from other areas of the country. That should be no surprise, since conditions for mountain lions differ both within California and between our state and other study sites throughout the west.
So, what do we know about lions, and where did we get that information?
The first records date back to 1907 when the Legislature designated the animal a bountied predator, a label that stood until 1963. As a result, we know when and where approximately 12,500 lions were taken during a 57-year period. In some years, more than 350 lions were taken statewide.
In 1969, following six years as a nongame mammal, the lion was classified a game mammal. Hunters pursuing lions bought 4,953 tags, with 118 lions taken during a two-year period.
A package of laws that went into effect in 1972 ended recreational hunting, allowing only depredation permits for lions that kill, injure or threaten livestock and pets. These rules have remained essentially the same over time. One by-product of the permit process is a consistent record of mountain lion activity for this period.
Incidents with domestic animals range from the death of a single dog to over 60 sheep killed or injured in one attack. Since DFG wardens and biologists verify these cases, this source of information has been reliable and consistent since 1972.
Prior to 1986, there was very little concern for public safety threats from lions. Although historic records reported fatal attacks on humans in 1890 and 1909, no further verified attacks occurred until March, 1986. That year a lion seriously injured a young girl visiting an Orange County park. From then until July, 1995, there have been 10 verified attacks on humans in California. In addition, DFG investigates an increasing number of incidents of lions threatening humans. During 1994, 10 lions were killed after they threatened or attacked people. Tragically, two incidents resulted in the death of the victims. Other evidence of the presence of mountain lions includes lions killed by vehicles on highways, confirmed sightings, property damage by lions in areas where they were seldom seen until recently, and lions discovered in areas which were long ago urbanized.
In recent years, it has become relatively common for the DFG to respond to reports of lions in residential areas. In some cases, people became aware of the animals only after neighborhood dogs drew attention to a lion in a tree or after seeing a lion on a rooftop. These "no harm, no foul" lions are often two to three years old, an age at which they leave their mother's home range and attempt to establish their own territory.
How has the DFG gone about obtaining other information on mountain lions? In 1973, DFG started its first field studies in Monterey County. The work involved capturing and marking individual lions - adults with radio telemetry collars and juveniles with ear tags. Marking devices allow lions to be identified over time and for DFG to document their activities. Over the last 20 years, Fish and Game improved techniques and expanded efforts through cooperative studies with other agencies and universities. These studies examined and followed more than 250 lions in 10 long-term studies from Sierra County in the north to Camp Pendleton, San Diego County, in the south.
The information provided by these studies include population densities - expressed in lions per 100 square miles - in various regions of the state. In addition, studies documented the extent of home ranges, the size of litters, food habits and survival in each specific areas. Field workers learned that home ranges tended to overlap, especially those of females. This tendency differed from previous reports in the scientific literature based on studies done since the early 1970s in the Rocky Mountains.
In an effort to verify the presence of lions in other areas, DFG intensively surveyed 19 additional sites. These surveys involved capture and ear-tagging of some lions, but the effort concentrated on verifying the presence and relative abundance of "lion sign" - tracks, droppings, and lion-killed prey - and interviews with people familiar with mountain lions. These people included DFG employees, U.S. Forest Service personnel, animal damage control specialists and local residents.
What have we learned? The best available information suggests lions are more numerous and widespread today than they were 25 years ago. This conclusion should not be surprising given that protections put in place in the 1960s and 1970s reduced human-caused mortality. In addition, potential prey for lions increased with expanding wild pig populations in oak woodlands and an increasing number of "hobby" livestock and pets owned by people moving to the foothills.
How many lions are there in California? The best DFG estimate, based on field work concluded in the late 1980s, resulted in an estimate of 5,100 adults. We limited the estimate to adults because a large proportion of kittens and juvenile mountain lions (those less than two years old) die annually. This estimate used the mountain lion density documented in DFG long-term studies and applied them to similar adjacent habitats.
It is not critical to know the exact number of lions in California. After all, it changes daily with births and deaths. From a scientific and management point of view, it is far more important to know about the mountain lion population in an area with a management program under consideration. Results of DFG field work, including cooperative research with universities and other government agencies, indicates that mountain lions consistently use about 80,000 square miles of range in a wide variety of habitats throughout the state.
Densities range from less than three lions per 100 square miles in the deserts of southeastern counties to seven to 10 lions per 100 square miles along the west slope of the Sierra and in northwestern areas of the state. These densities rank relatively high compared to those reported in other western states. We documented cases where densities increased on deer winter ranges as lions followed migrating deer, joining resident lions on winter ranges.
We've observed mountain lions using areas immediately adjacent to urban residential centers. Although these areas don't appear to be good habitat for lions, the fact they readily use them is important.
During the course of intensive studies in Orange and San Diego counties, we learned the sizes of individual lion home ranges, mortality factors, number of kittens in litters, dispersal patterns of young lions, typical prey species and how mountain lions react to habitat changes. Lions proved to be highly adaptable. This information was gathered through intensive monitoring of individual lions for 24-hour periods, pinpointing their location and activities every 15 minutes. Such detailed studies are difficult and very costly to conduct.
By combining the results of long-term and intensive field studies with other confirmed evidence of mountain lions, trends can be detected. The increase in mountain lion numbers and occupied range, combined with the increase in California's human population, provides one reason for an increase in conflicts between mountain lions and humans. We have more people living, working and recreating in lion range. However, we can't explain all the increase in conflicts by people moving into lion range.
There are also signs that lions fight with other lions for food and territory. They include high kitten mortality - thought to be linked to competition among adult lions for food - and lions killing other lions, with adult males usually the aggressors. In several studies, we documented serious injuries to lions caused by fighting, as well as young lions being killed and eaten by adults. These interactions suggest a high level of competition among lions and that the habitat is near capacity.
Obviously, humans have invaded the lions space in many areas. However, it appears that lions are also expanding their range into new areas. How else can we explain lions showing up in areas developed 50 years ago and where lions had not been seen for at least that long?
Some people believe these lions are being forced out of their former home ranges into the city by humans. That may be a factor in some cases. However, a biological explanation is that the good habitat is already full of lions. Since they compete for food and space, some lions are forced to move, ending up in marginal areas where they are more likely to cause trouble. The fact that damage to livestock is increasing in rural counties like Inyo, Lassen, Modoc and Mono, where human populations have not greatly increased, suggests lions are expanding their range.
We ve also learned a great deal about mountain lion interactions with wildlife they prey upon. In some cases, the information comes as an indirect result of special studies of bighorn sheep and deer. There are strong indications that mountain lion predation may be limiting small populations such as California bighorn sheep in the Sierra. Before dismissing the issue based on lions just eating natural prey, it may deserve more consideration.
In most cases, it does not appear that lion predation alone caused these prey populations to decline. However, populations stressed by habitat loss, competition with livestock, prolonged drought and periodic heavy winters may not be able to withstand the pressure of lion predation. DFG has documented lion predation as a serious limiting factor through the use of mortality-sensing radio transmitters attached to prey animals. In the light of this information, we may need to look more at managing mountain lions in combination with bighorn sheep and deer populations. However, these potential programs should be based on objective information and guided by sound experimental designs, including thorough evaluations.
This has been a quick look at mountain lions in California. We need to know more. In an effort to increase our understanding of the relationship between mountain lion activity and other variables, we're analyzing a variety of data. This includes comparing indications of confirmed mountain lion damage to livestock and pets with such items as the amount of suitable lion habitat in each county, the number of people using recreational areas, such as state parks, and loss of habitat, as reflected by the number of building permits issued in each county.
Although we don't have all the causes and effects documented, we hope to identify the factors most closely associated with trends in mountain lion populations. By doing so, we can focus our efforts on the management options which best meet our goals for maintaining mountain lions in the future and minimizing conflicts with humans.
Terry Mansfield is chief of the California Department of Fish and Game's Wildlife Management Division.
MOUNTAIN LIONS - CALIFORNIA'S LARGEST CARNIVORE by Steve Torres
The mountain lion, Felis concolor concolor, is the largest pure carnivore of California. Native Americans in California perceived the mountain lion as an exemplary hunter, spiritual power, threat and friend. To the Miwoks, the lion was the animal chief.
Today, mountain lions are recognized both as an important part of the state's wildlife heritage, and as a source of conflict with human activities such as ranching, recreation and development.
Mountain lions are generally secretive, solitary, cryptic and elusive. As such, most people never see this animal in the wild. In fact, both field biologists and outdoor recreationists rarely see mountain lions, even in habitats that support relatively dense populations. Therefore, there is a common perception that mountain lions are scarce in California.
However, mountain lions are relatively common members of California's diverse wildlife and are generally associated with the presence of deer, their primary prey. Indeed, the abundance of deer is the best indicator for the presence of mountain lions.
Due to their solitary and elusive nature, mountain lions are one of the most difficult large mammals to study in North America. Accordingly, much of what has been learned about these animals in California is the result of the development and use of radio telemetry equipment in the 1970s.
Prior to the development of radio telemetry, individual lions could not be easily followed. As such, determination of home range size, population size, density and many other aspects of the natural history of mountain lions could not be determined. Therefore, population estimates prior to 1972 were speculative and may only have represented "educated guesses."
The mountain lion, also known as cougar, panther or puma, is tawny-colored with black-tipped ears and tail. Although smaller than the jaguar, which ranges into Mexico from Central and South America, it is one of North America's largest cats.
Adult males may be more than eight feet long, from nose to end of tail, and generally weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. Adult females can be seven feet long and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds.
Mountain lion kittens, or cubs, are covered with blackish-brown spots and have dark rings around their tails. The markings fade as they mature.
Mountain lions live in many different types of habitat in California, from desert to humid coast range forests, and from sea level to 10,000 feet. They generally will be most abundant in areas with plentiful deer.
An adult male's home range often spans over 100 square miles. Females generally use smaller areas - about 20 to 60 square miles. Along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, where competition for habitat is intense, as many as 10 adult lions occupy the same 100 square mile area.
Number of Young
The DFG's long-term field studies during the 1980s documented high mortality rates among kittens and young lions. The most common number of kittens in a litter at birth was three. In general, only two survived the first year, and only one was recruited into the adult breeding population at two years of age.
A mountain lion's natural life span is probably about 12 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity. Natural enemies include other large predators such as bears and other lions. They also fall victim to accidents, disease, motor vehicles and people.
From 1972 through 1989, the DFG conducted research on several mountain lion populations and provided some of the first population assessments for select regions of the state. Unfortunately, the status and management of mountain lions remains hotly debated with often little data to support a variety of contentions. Therefore, Fish and Game is currently examining several areas of conflict among mountain lions and public safety, livestock, pets (depredation) and other intensely managed species, such as deer and bighorn sheep.
Depredation Analysis and Public Safety Summary
The DFG is examining more than 20 years of reported depredation incidents for changes and patterns over time as these incidents relate to prey availability, human activity, climate, season and habitat availability. Other indicators of mountain lion and human activity are being reviewed to provide additional recommendations to help identify and prevent potential public safety problems.
Round Valley Summary
The DFG is completing the fourth year of a long-term study designed to identify the primary factors influencing the population of a mule deer herd that winters in Round Valley, along the eastern scarp of the Sierra Nevada (Inyo and Mono Counties). Although the assumption was that a population decline was the result of a decrease in forage availability due to long-term drought, current research is additionally focusing on specific mortality factors, such as predation, that may be further limiting deer population recovery.
Indeed, mountain lions have been identified as an important mortality factor for the Round Valley herd, accounting for close to 50 percent of the recorded mortalities of radio-collared deer during the first two years of this phase of the project. By closely following individual mountain lions, Fish and Game researchers documented an average interval of 1.8 days between kills on wintering deer.
Given that increased rainfall has resulted in improving forage conditions, this research has the unique opportunity to observe any resulting changes in deer herd numbers and the associated relationships between predator and prey.
Anza Borrego Summary
In 1992, the DFG initiated a comprehensive population monitoring program for Peninsular bighorn, a state-listed threatened subspecies. The apparent decline of these subpopulations has resulted in an intensive effort to identify the causes and potential solutions. To date, 106 bighorn sheep have been fitted with radio transmitters and 24 of 36 mortalities recorded so far were caused by mountain lions. Predation by lions may be singularly limiting population recovery of several of these bighorn sheep subpopulations.
Steve Torres directs the DFG mountain lion programs statewide.
MOUNTAIN LION ATTACKS ON HUMANS
HUMAN ATTACKS: Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. A scientific review of records on attacks by cougars on humans in the United States and Canada from 1890 through 1990 indicated there were 53 cougar attacks on humans during this period nine attacks resulting in 10 human deaths, and 44 non-fatal attacks.
Since that report was published in 1991 (by Professor Paul Beier, a wildlife ecologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, formerly of University of California, Berkeley), there have been three documented fatal human attacks in the United States, one in Colorado and two in California.
CALIFORNIA INJURY INCIDENTS: The Department of Fish and Game has carefully documented cougar-human incidents which result in injuries to people. Verifiable records of human beings injured by mountain lions in California document only 12 such incidents.
The first occurred on June 19, 1890 in Quartz Valley, Siskiyou County, when a seven-year-old boy was killed by two lions while playing among oak trees some distance from his home.
The next verified incident occurred on July 5, 1909 in Morgan Hill, Santa Clara County. Historic journals indicate a rabid lion injured a woman and child. Both died of rabies. No human injury incidents resulting from mountain lions were verified in California between 1909 and 1986.
In March 1986, a five-year-old girl was seriously injured by a mountain lion at Caspers Regional Park in Orange County, located east of San Juan Captistrano.
In October 1986, a six-year-old boy received minor injuries resulting from a lion attack near the scene of the March incident at Caspers Regional Park, Orange County.
In March 1992, a nine-year-old boy received minor injuries when he was attacked by a mountain lion in Gaviota State Park, Santa Barbara County.
In September 1993, a 10-year-old girl received minor injuries when she was attacked by a mountain lion in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park in San Diego County.
In April 1994, Barbara Schoener, 40, was attacked and killed by a mountain lion while jogging alone on a path in Auburn State Recreation Area, El Dorado County, about 45 miles northeast of Sacramento.
In August 1994, two couples staying at a remote Mendocino County cabin reported killing a mountain lion after it charged them. Their confrontation was triggered by a fight between their dog and the mountain lion. The lion was stabbed to death. A woman was injured and a man lost a thumb in the struggle. Tests indicate the mountain lion killed in this incident was rabid.
In December 1994, Iris Kenna, 56, of San Diego was killed by a mountain lion while walking alone on a road in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park, San Diego County.
In March 1995, Scott Fike, 27, received minor injuries when he was attacked by a mountain lion while riding his bicycle alone on a bike trail at Mount Lowe in the San Gabriel Mountains (Angeles National Forest) above Altadena, Los Angeles County.
HOW THE LAW DEALS WITH MOUNTAIN LIONS by Dave Dick
The procedures to deal with problem mountain lions are spelled out in Chapter 10 of the Fish and Game Code of California a 600-page document covering all manner of wildlife laws. This legal framework resulted from the June 1990 passage of Proposition 117, which declared the mountain lion a "specially protected mammal" -- the only California species so designated.
"The department (of Fish and Game) may remove or take any mountain lion, or authorize an appropriate local agency with public safety responsibility to remove or take any mountain lion, that is perceived to be an imminent threat to public health or safety," reads Section 4801 of the Code.
The law also allows a person whose "livestock or other property" has been damaged or destroyed by a mountain lion to report the incident to Fish and Game and request a permit to take kill the offending animal. Once such a request is made, the law requires "immediate" no more than 48 hours after receipt of the report confirmation from Fish and Game that a mountain lion is responsible.
"If satisfied that there has been depredation by a mountain lion as reported, the department shall promptly issue a permit to take the depredating mountain lion," reads Section 4803 of the Code.
The law has several features to ensure only the depredating lion is taken. Conditions of a depredation permit include:
-The permit expires 10 days after it is issued.
-Pursuit of the offending lion must begin within a mile of the depredation site.
-Pursuit of the lion is limited to within a 10-mile radius of the incident.
Persons taking a lion under a depredation permit are required to turn the carcass over to the DFG.
Another section permits the immediate killing of any mountain lion caught in the act of "pursuing, inflicting injury to, or killing livestock, or domestic animals." Any such incident must be reported to Fish and Game within 72 hours. The DFG investigates the depredation and confiscates the lion carcass, if it was killed. A permit is issued afterward if the investigation confirms the depredation.
When a lion is authorized to be taken, the Fish and Game Code directs it be done by "the most effective means available." Poison, snares and leg-hold or metal jawed traps are specifically prohibited by Proposition 117, although these methods could be useful in areas where the use of hounds is impractical.
If You Encounter a Mountain Lion
The following suggestions are based on studies of mountain behavior and analysis of attacks by mountain lions, tigers and leopards:
-Do not hike alone. Go in groups, with adults supervising children. -Keep children close to you. Observations of captured mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within your sight at all times.
-Do not approach a lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
-Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so that they do not panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the lion.
-Do not crouch or bend over. A person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal.
-Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Throw stones, branches or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
-Fight back if attacked. Some hikers have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.
For more information about mountain lions, please contact the Department of Fish and Game, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.
In case of emergency call the DFG at 916 445-0045 (24 hours a day).
LIVING WITH LIONS by Sallie Reynolds
You re walking down the canyon path on a beautiful Spring morning! You take a deep breath, stretch your shoulders, and swing your walking stick. Your stride quickens.
Ahead, the mountain lion lies on a rock ledge over the path. She isn't moving, but she's hunting nonetheless. This is a deer path. Her kitten is waiting half a mile away, hidden under a log near the remains of her last kill. A two-month kitten, always hungry.
The mother lion usually hunts at dawn and dusk, when the deer are most active. But she didn t make a kill last night, and the deer are still moving in the cool of the morning. She listens for them, raising her head.
You round a point of land and stop the river lies 1,000 feet below, a shining ribbon. You hold your breath to hear its rushing. And then you breathe! Pine needles, warming in the sun, the pungent odor of Mountain Misery. This - this is what makes you happy!
A young redtailed hawk shrieks and a jay imitates him. You hear crashing in the brush. A doe and her fawn spring across the path and head down toward the creek.
Ahead, the lion tenses, inches up to the edge of the overhang. The deer have run away. But something else is coming.
You walk along blithely, swinging your stick. Whistling. Trying to mock the jay mocking the hawk. You round the bend. The lion crouches down on her rock. You come closer, closer.
She is powerful. She can kill a full grown deer or elk. Her attacks are swift most of them are over as quickly as an automobile accident. She can drop silently 60 feet and land running. She can leap 15 feet upward. On flat ground, she can spring forward almost 45 feet.
You're passing directly below her now. She's watching you. Then you're ahead, 10 feet, 20, 30. You round the next point.
She watches for an instant the spot where you vanished, then sinks back onto her belly. Lifts her head once more, listening for deer.
You escaped. You never even knew she was there. Did she register you: Human unacceptable prey? Did you do something that discouraged her? Or were you just lucky?
More than half of California is prime mountain lion country: 80,000 square miles in two long strips. One runs the coast from Oregon to Los Angeles. The other comes up from Mexico and runs along the Sierra Nevada.
Much of this lion habitat lies in state parks. Some habitat is remote, but much of this lion country is near peopled areas. In these and in certain stretches along the coast and foothills where human populations are spreading into what was once wilderness lions and humans meet. According to Department of Fish and Game statistics, the number of these meetings is increasing.
What do we know about these beautiful, fierce neighbors? Lions are said to be territorial and solitary, living no more than five to ten lions to every 100 square miles. But they re also adaptable and smart. Pressed for space, lions turn theory on its head and begin to stack up in an area. And when their major prey in the foothill area, deer becomes scarce, lions move on or turn to other food, including domestic animals.
In California, between 1909 and 1986, there were no recorded injuries to humans from lions. So you ll hear that your chances of getting struck by lightning are 10 times greater than your chances of attack by a mountain lion. But this is one of those fiddled statistics. It is true if you live where lions are rare. If you live or explore in the areas where lions and humans juxtapose, the odds begin to look a bit different.
Since 1986, there have been nine human injuries in California and two deaths. The injuries were mostly to children visiting parks. Two adult women were killed and partly consumed, two in 1994. One of these women died about a mile from my house.
Like most of us in the little community of Cool, which lies above the Western States Trail overlooking the American River, I was shocked when a woman running alone was killed by a lion. That canyon path Barbara Schoener took I have walked at least 100 times, alone also. While I ve seen bear, bobcat, coyote, and heard the buzz of rattlesnake, I always thought of the lion as "somewhere else." Higher, farther, deeper in the woods. I knew you go there alert vividly to all around you. That very tingle of alertness is one of the place s deepest attractions. But it never occurred to me an animal might seek to kill me for food.
Was this a fluke? Eight months later, Iris Kenna, a schoolteacher, was killed in Cuyamaca State Park, near San Diego, and one question came clear: Are we who live and explore near lions in danger?
Four deaths in a century, even two deaths in a single year, are not many, when you consider the numbers dying on highways or even by human action. But we ve come to believe we have a right to be safe almost anywhere. And it is deeply disturbing to think of ourselves as food. At the same time, we also take a different view of our past tradition of exterminating animals particularly predators for our convenience or safety. So how can we sensibly look at our relationship with the lion?
Facing these issues, I set out to learn something about lions. This isn t as easy as it sounds. Today, opinions on this animal conflict wildly. But a body of information exists to help us in our dilemma. Much that I ve learned from a year of interviews and reading has been unexpected, some of it unwelcome.
First, I lost the pretty vision of "wild life" subsisting in nature on its own. Second, walking alone in the canyons I love, I believe I am indeed in more than casual danger. Much less than if I played in traffic. But more than from lightning. And the lion is in danger from me. When human and lion confront, lightning almost always strikes the lion.
When a Lion Attacks a Human
When DFG receives a report that a lion has attacked livestock or pets, agents verify the report and issue a depredation permit, which allows the people whose animals were killed to kill the offending lion. Often they never catch it. The department in 1994 issued 322 depredation permits, on which only 121 lions were killed. Some lions were killed in the act.
But when a lion attacks or kills a human being, Fish and Game sends its most knowledgeable people. In April, 1994 when Barbara Schoener was killed near Cool, the DFG verified it was a lion attack, and set out to kill the lion.
Those of us living nearby knew the animal was being hunted, but neither the DFG nor community administrators told us how the investigation was being handled. No town meetings, no community involvement. We only knew there was a "Trail Closed" sign at the nearest public entrance to the park, and for the next few days, TV news teams across the country made a farce of the chase.
A week later, a female lion was shot. We protested. Was it the right lion? Was she the only lion? Newscasters announced that she had a cub. We were sure it would die.
Three days later, the cub was found and taken safely to the DFG s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) east of Sacramento. A week or so after that, forensic odontology reported a perfect bite match, and DNA tests confirmed that the right lion had been killed. The furor began to fade.
In December, 1994, when Iris Kenna was killed by a lion in Cuyamaca, there was far less press attention and almost no public hysteria. The lion was identified and killed within hours. What was the difference between these cases? Why did it take so agonizingly long to find the lion in Cool?
"Several factors contributed," WIL Coordinator Bill Clark told me. "First, for two days, the Cool case was considered a homicide. Then, three days of rain erased most of the tracks and scents necessary for the trailing hounds to locate lions. Finally, a week to catch a particular lion really isn t unusual. Cats move through big territories in this case, rough canyon country."
Clark drew a map to illustrate. Ordinarily, a female might work a home range of 25-40 square miles, a male double or triple that. His large range might overlap a number of female ranges, and he might breed with them all. Clark s illustration was neat: three circles overlapping in the middle the females, surrounded by a large square representing the male.
This neat and somewhat comforting diagram, with its hints of an underlying order and control, can be found in many published accounts of lions. Sometimes there are arrows leading into and out of the diagram. These represent what the literature refers to as "transients" and Clark calls "teenagers" young lions newly on their own after nearly two years of apprenticeship with their mothers. Siblings might wander together for awhile, in and out of these ranges. But before long, they ll separate and move on, looking for an "empty" home range.
"These teenagers are the ones I believe get into trouble more than the others," Clark said. "They don t have a home territory, they don t know to avoid humans, as most adult cats do. They wander into housing developments, onto roads, sometimes they ll kill a goat or a pet. And when that happens, we have to do something. Once a youngster learns to kill livestock, he ll likely go on taking easy pickings."
Adult males, hunting or searching for receptive females which can go into estrus at any time of year, can move 20 miles and more a night. Females, especially with young cubs, tend to move less. When cubs are about two months old, the mother will begin taking them to her hidden kill.
"We found Barbara Schoener's body where this lion had several deer carcasses covered with leaves and dirt," said Clark. The trackers thought she'd return and checked the spot every morning. Sure enough, a week later, she came back.
"I was 100 percent sure she was the right lion," said Dave Fjelline, Placer County trapper and an expert on mountain lions. "The tracks matched, and we trailed her onto the site. She went straight for it, didn't deviate at all."
Identifying the Right Lion
Rumor had it that six, 10 or 20 lions had been shot in the search for the right one. As far away as Calaveras County, I heard reports of enraged citizens shooting lions all over the place. Fjelline heard that he himself had killed 23.
"No person I know can kill 23 lions in that time," he said. "We could have killed two other lions in the area. But we didn't. We knew from the first day we were looking for a female of 80-85 pounds, with a bite measuring 38 millimeters."
Tracks at the site told him size, weight, sex. Bite marks on the victim revealed the size of the lion s jaw.
Fjelline showed me pictures of tracks, male and female, young and adult. Often individuals stood out a bent or splayed toe, a characteristic pad. Next, photos of scratches, or scrapes mounds of debris males scrape up near prey trails and wet with urine. The books describe these as a "Trespassers Beware" sign. Fjelline looks on them more as a kind of "Kilroy was here" indicator a male lion announcing his presence as he searches for a female in estrus.
Experts can recognize scratches and estimate how old they are. If you see a spot of wet, you know the lion is only a couple of hours ahead of you.
Females don t make scratches. But there are other signs to help you identify them. Size and depth of track. From feces you can determine size and diet. Evidence at kill sites is particularly revealing. Fjelline showed me photographs of caches piles of leaves so ordinary you d walk right past them. Then a second photo with a dead deer uncovered.
"If you find several cleaned-up carcasses, you suspect a female with cubs," he said. "If little has been consumed, a male. They re likely to take off the minute their bellies are full to search for females. And where you find carnage -- 40 sheep killed -- you re almost sure to find an old tom. They re the most dangerous, in my opinion. If one of them were to target you -- well, you d be in trouble."
Lions stay on the move.
"Except for females with very young kittens, lions don t have dens as such," Fjelline said. "A fallen tree, a pile of brush, a couple of rocks will do. After four or five weeks, the mother lion will leave her kittens at one kill, sometimes for several days, while she kills again. The kittens hide in the brush and have plenty to eat until she comes back and takes them to the fresh site. When you find a kill site that s a mess bone chips, fur and feces all over and well cleaned of meat you can bet on kittens."
All these factors add up, and good trackers develop a highly accurate picture of the animal they are looking for before they find it.
Knowing Lions Are There
"The best rule of thumb: Assume lions are around wherever you have a large deer population," Clark says. "If they aren t there today, they ll come in tomorrow."
Sometimes you hear them, yowling in courtship. Wherever many lions are living, livestock depredations may increase and so will sightings. In the weeks before Barbara Schoener was killed, a number of people living near the trail reported seeing a lion, though it was causing no trouble. In the months before Iris Kenna was killed, several lions in Cuyamaca Park were killed for persistently confronting or harassing humans.
If a lion is killed, assume another will take its place immediately. There are indications that lions, now protected and virtually without natural enemies, are on the increase. DFG s estimate today is between 5,000 - 6,000 throughout the state.
Fjelline showed me lion population counts from long-term research he d been involved in. In areas with heavy deer populations, Clark s neat design of three circles and a square went out the window. What I saw was a crazy-quilt. Far from the comforting thought that there might be one other female in our area and a male cruising by, these reports showed many lions sharing a very small territory. In 1985, a study in the Foresthill area recorded 27 lions using about 130 square miles - that is, 10 by 13!
"And a count gives you only the minimum," Fjelline warned. "I knew some lions evaded us."
Capturing lions for research involves a long, painstaking and expensive process. Finding a single problem lion is sometimes easier. In Cuyamaca State Park, after Iris Kenna was killed, the trackers and the warden were able to get to the scene immediately. They placed the fresh carcass of a deer where they had found the woman s body. Before long the lion returned to the site to feed, and was shot.
The Cool lion, however, had several days advantage over lion trackers. And so they were forced to use methods developed over years of research. Fortunately, the kill site was completely bordered by dirt paths, making it easy to spot tracks going in and out of the area.
After the territory was outlined, the trackers set about identifying the individual lion. They recorded the characteristics of each sign and set of tracks near the kill site. Lions are so elusive and fast moving, they cannot be successfully hunted without specially trained hounds. Fjelline s hounds followed the lion throughout the territory sometimes a day behind her.
"This kind of hunt gets really intense," he said. "You concentrate more and more on the nature of the animal, and every time she eludes you, you learn something about the way she works. The hounds help you go beyond your human limitations. They extend your eyes, ears, nostrils, so that you can understand and enter the world of that animal. Before it s over, my processes are probably not entirely human anymore."
One morning, after a week of such intensity, the hounds picked up the lion s trail at the kill site. After a brief chase, she was treed and killed no more than a hundred yards from where she had attacked Barbara Schoener.
Killing Lions vs Moving Lions vs Lions in Zoos
When the lion was shot, public outcry rose to a crescendo. Most of the calls to DFG were against killing the lion. Fjelline and another fieldworker reported death threats. Why hadn t they tried to move her? callers asked. Or give her to a zoo?
"We can t move a problem animal to some other area," said Clark. "If a lion has attacked or killed a human once, it might very well do so again. And then the public outrage and our liability would be well deserved. But if a lion s only misdeed is wandering into inappropriate places what we call a no harm, no foul animal we ll try to give it another chance."
Even for these cats, the criteria for relocation are stringent. First, the DFG tests them for disease. Though lions are remarkably healthy, there have been reports of familiar diseases. A rabid lion was killed just last year in Mendocino County. So candidates for release must be checked thoroughly. Next, the DFG locates a place that seems satisfactory not overcrowded with other lions, plenty of deer, cooperation of agencies concerned with the area. Only then is the animal collared for monitoring and released.
Today, however, there are almost always other lions where there is prey. The relocated cat may be killed by a resident male. Or starve if there is, after all, too little food. Some relocated lions, unfamiliar with the new area, wander onto highways and are killed by cars. Many simply head back where they came from or into territory that feels "right." So, relocation is rarely done.
Recently, one young male, captured in Fair Oaks and released by Clark in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, began to move right away and was followed via radio telemetry over 100 miles before he settled near a small town. He caused no trouble, but one day the mortality signal on his collar went on. When a collared animal has not moved in six hours, a special signal is triggered, alerting the researchers that it is dead. This lion was found about a mile from the village center. Cause of death unknown.
"I've never had what I consider a success relocating a lion," Clark says.
Lions live 8 - 12 years in the wild. They live up to 25 years in zoos. So, being in captivity might not seem a bad thing. But adult wild lions are often unable to shorten their sights from 100 square miles to a few yards, and seldom adapt well to the proximity of humans. Good zoos, usually full to capacity, prefer cage-bred lions as calmer and more people-oriented.
Orphaned wild cubs can adapt to zoo life. After he was rescued, the Cool lion s cub, Willow, was hand-reared at DFG for a few weeks, then presented to the Folsom Zoo, which has developed an educational program to teach people how to live in lion country. At first, Willow was ill from worms and extremely stressed. He spat, growled and hated being touched by his keepers. Offered an old stuffed panda, Willow after a moment s hesitation began rolling about with it as if the toy were another kitten.
Soon humans could touch him to examine and medicate him, using the panda as a bridge. He carried it around, chirped and whistled and made little throaty greetings. Then, as an experiment, Willow received a second toy, a large teddy bear. The cub immediately hissed, growled and sprang. This
toy was not friend, but prey. He raked its belly with his hind claws, stalked it, attacked it from behind, bit its head honing the predatory skills. On an unexpected level, this traumatized wild kitten, at three months, was learning ways to live in his new environment, even assigning different personalties to his toys. A year after his mother s death, Willow is large, healthy, and seems content in his new life.
Can We Live with Lions?
Many of us already do. We can live very near lions for years and never see them, hear them, or know they re there. But in the face of increasing attacks, we need to become aware of the dangers and responsibilities of living in the lion s neighborhood and exploring its territories, so that we can evaluate our safety.
Learning Through Studying the Lion
Everyone seems to agree we need more research. At what rate are lions increasing? What impact are they having on prey species? Can they be discouraged from approaching humans? But these are expensive doings. Terry Mansfield, chief of DFG s Wildlife Management Division, estimated recently that an Orange County lion research project from 1987 to 1992 among the most intensive studies ever done, with many workers, hounds and radio telemetry apparatus, even air surveys cost about $400,000 over four years.
Much funding for the DFG s valuable wildlife management programs has traditionally come from hunter groups. Now, however, the sport-hunting population in California seems to be shrinking even as the state is growing. And most non-hunting users of our parklands don t pay for their privileges. Today the DFG would be hard pressed to use funds generated from game mammal hunting revenues for support of lion research, because the lion is not game nor to tap the fund for endangered species, because the lion is not endangered. The only studies that include the lion are those focusing on other animals research, for example, on the impact of predators on deer populations. In their position as specially protected animals, lions have lost their financial status in the system.
Meanwhile, time is going by. And people who work with lions warn us that they re changing.
"Remember," says Fjelline, "the lion is adaptable. What was true 10 years ago may not be today." Confrontations are clearly increasing. Depredation complaints are increasing. Attacks are increasing.
"For public safety and for the animal s well-being, we should manage the lion," Clark says, and many agree. DFG manages other animals virtually all other animals in California. There is, truly and sadly, no real wild life in the romantic sense any longer. Animals and plants alike are counted, studied for habitat, for disease, for interaction with other animals and plants and the environment, which includes their human neighbors. And since we are increasing so dramatically, it can probably be no other way. If we are to have animals around us at all, DFG is going to have to monitor them, protect them, make sure they have proper access to food, water, habitat in short, manage them though that sometimes means killing.
If we manage, will we lose species or end up with all large animals on "reserves"? Will our grandchildren never experience free-ranging animals in wild country?
"We haven t lost any species we ve managed so far," Mansfield said at a public meeting in Placer County recently. "On the contrary, if we manage the habitat and the animals properly, we can have a beneficial effect. We can guarantee that our great-grandchildren will have those experiences."
In California, as in few other states, we are lucky to be able to live near the wild beasts. We have many "habitats" to choose from why deliberately come so close to potentially dangerous wildlife? Surely, in part, it is because we love their very wildness. What can we do about adapting ourselves a bit, to protect both ourselves and the lion?
-First, as a civic group, we should educate residents, new and old, on the wildlife around them, including potential dangers: Informational brochures at real estate offices; seminars in schools and communities bordering wildernesses; more many more signs on trails; pamphlets at the entrances to parks. Not hysterical messages, but sensible warnings such as the one that now graces the trailhead where Barbara Schoener entered the canyon.
Signs and brochures won t solve all problems, of course. Explicit warnings in Cuyamaca did not save Iris Kenna. But they can begin the process of education.
We need to vote to allocate funds to DFG specifically for study of lions and for education. Some shifting of the money provided by Prop 117 might help.
Ordinary citizens can help fund the daily work and the research. DFG gets very little of our tax money, under two percent of its budget from the state s general fund. Non-hunting wildlife enthusiasts can join hunters in paying for research and development of wildlands by contributing to the California Wildlife Campaign, 3211 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95816 and the Endangered Species Tax Checkoff Fund. See your Form 540.
-Second, as property owners living near lions, our safety and that of our animals is largely up to us. We live in the equivalent of pioneering country. Situations arise at our houses or farms too quickly for the authorities to help us. We need to remember that we can defend ourselves. And we can take sensible precautions: Don t leave food out. Keep pets in at night. Put small livestock up in a barn or a pen with a top. Light the property. Use livestock guard dogs dogs not trained to herd animals, which is akin to predation, but dogs raised with livestock and bonded to them.
-Finally, as individuals, not going alone into the wilderness is by itself almost enough to keep us safe. Keep children near when we re visiting such areas. All big cats seem unable to resist children. Clark stresses: Don t act like prey. Stand tall. Carry a stick. If you encounter a lion, don t run. Don t crouch. Never turn your back.
"Meet the lion s eye," says Clark. "Pick up your children. Appear large as you can. Throw stones. Shout." Make the lion want to get away from you. "Give that lion a healthy respect for humans," both Fjelline and Clark advise.
Fjelline, after 25 years of experience with more than 300 lions, believes that, because they see us more often and because of the way we posture ourselves lions are less afraid of humans, and therefore more dangerous.
"Some will tell you the Cool lion mistook Barbara Schoener for a deer," Fjelline said. "I don t believe it for a minute. That lion was a very experienced, efficient hunter, we know that from her kill sites. Her senses were much sharper than yours or mine she could smell, she could see. She knew four legs from two."
Most lions do not attack humans. But something that day made that woman acceptable prey to that lion.
"Perhaps it was the running," Fjelline said. "Perhaps it was the size. Men are less at risk than women and children just because they re bigger. Or perhaps she d simply gotten used to humans. You might have inadvertently contributed to that yourself. No blame but think about it. Haven t you walked that path, alone, many times? How often did she watch you go by?"
Sallie Reynolds is a free-lance writer who lives in Cool.
DFG TESTIMONY BEFORE SENATE WILDLIFE COMMITTEE
In April 1995, Terry Mansfield, chief of the wildlife management division of the California Department of Fish and Game, testified about mountain lions before the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee. Here are qestions posed by the committee.
Question: Is there any evidence to indicate the mountain lion population has increased since 1990?
There have been no statewide studies since 1990 which would provide a scientific basis for documenting increases in the statewide lion population. However, substantial evidence corroborates increasing trends in a number of areas. This evidence includes increases in mountain lion damage to livestock and domestic pets, mountain lions entering areas which were urbanized long ago, and a substantial number of sightings of mountain lions in areas where they were seldom if ever seen prior to the 1990s.
A substantial increase in the number of lions in areas which were long ago urbanized suggests an increasing population. These areas include the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles County; Oceanside, San Diego County; Orangevale, Sacramento County and Chico, Butte County.
Increased damage to livestock and pets has also been noted in rural counties where human populations and livestock grazing patterns have not changed significantly since 1990. The counties include Inyo, Lassen, Modoc and Mono. This evidence strongly suggests an increasing population and, in some cases, an expanding range.
In addition, field studies using capture and marking with radio telemetry equipment in Orange County during the early 1990s, as well as ongoing studies in Inyo and Mono counties since 1990, resulted in documented mountain lion population densities higher than previously estimated from observations of tracks and other sign of the presence of lions. The best objective information suggests the increasing trend in mountain lions densities and expansion of their range is a continuation of the trend which most likely started in the early to mid-1970s.
Recent radio telemetry studies of bighorn sheep, deer and elk in various areas of California have documented substantial mountain lion predation on these prey species in areas where few lions were known to exist prior to 1990.
Question: Evidence has been presented that indicated an increase in attacks and fatalities since passage of Proposition 117 in 1990. What is your interpretation of this evidence? Specifically, is it a pattern that can be traced to passage of Proposition 117, does it have multiple causes, is it regional rather than statewide, or is it conceivably a random series of episodes that requires further monitoring?
The evidence suggests the increase in mountain lion attacks on humans since 1990 is the result of a large, widespread lion population coming in contact with a large, expanding human population. Since lions are predators, and humans can serve as prey, the probability of attacks on humans has increased in California as both populations have increased.
Passage of Proposition 117 in 1990 is not the direct cause of the documented increase in mountain lion/human conflicts. It appears that mountain lion/human conflicts began to increase after the bounty system was terminated in 1963. However, scientific lion population studies were not initiated until the mid-1970s. Conflicts were made more obvious in 1986 (before passage of Proposition 117) when two attacks on humans were verified in Orange County.
Since 1990, the trend in public safety incidents and damage to private property has continued to increase. Mountain lions are more numerous now than they were prior to the mid-1960s and more humans are living, working and recreating in lion habitat. Conflicts with mountain lions are not confined to specific areas of the State, but rather are widespread, with public safety incidents occurring in El Dorado, Los Angeles, Mendocino, Orange, San Diego and Santa Barbara counties in recent years. Since the mountain lion population trend is stable-to-increasing and the human population is approximately 32 million, we expect conflicts to continue.
Question: Has there been an increase in sightings of mountain lions since 1990? If so, what is your interpretation of the evidence? Does the DFG collect information about sightings? If so, how is it done?
Mountain lion sightings reported to Fish and Game have increased from 59 in 1991 to over 300 in 1994. However, caution must be used in interpreting reports from the public involving mountain lions. Many reports are difficult, if not impossible, to verify based on limited information provided by members of the public who are unfamiliar with the appearance and habits of mountain lions.
In addition, under existing DFG procedures, incident reports are completed only in cases where the reporting party is concerned that further investigation or follow-up action may be required. In cases where no further action is necessary and the reporting party is merely interested in sharing an observation with the DFG, an incident report may not be prepared. Attention drawn to mountain lions by recent and well publicized human attacks has most likely increased public interest in lions and may have resulted in more reports.
When a reporting party stresses that they fear for their safety, the DFG attempts to immediately send an employee or other government agency personnel to investigate the situation. Written incident reports are summarized by calendar year and maintained by the DFG. During 1994, 10 mountain lions were killed in response to threats to public safety.
Question: Has the Department observed a decline or increase in the population of deer or bighorn sheep? If there has been a decline of deer or sheep in any region, to what extent is it due to mountain lions, and has the decline occurred since 1990?
Trends in deer and bighorn sheep populations vary throughout California. In some areas, it appears deer numbers have declined as a result of habitat loss, drought and other factors. In other areas, deer numbers have remained stable or increased with the presence of mountain lions. In general, evidence available to the DFG does not indicate that mountain lion predation has caused major declines in deer populations, but it may slow or prevent recovery in herds which have been reduced by other factors.
Populations of bighorn sheep in the peninsular ranges (state listed as threatened and proposed for federal listing as endangered) have been declining due primarily to poor recruitment of young animals. These population declines began prior to 1990, and several factors may be limiting our abilities to help stimulate population recoveries, including mountain lion predation, disease and range conditions. Mountain lions have been determined to be the cause of approximately 22 percent of bighorn mortalities in the peninsular bighorn sheep populations in Riverside and San Diego counties.
In the three-year period 1987-1989, the DFG selectively removed three mature male mountain lions which were preying on a small population of California bighorn sheep in the Lee Vining Canyon area of Mono County. This step was taken to prevent excessive lion predation on this small population of recently reintroduced bighorn sheep with the intent to allow their expansion. Following the removal of three lions during the period 1987-1989, the bighorn sheep population expanded from approximately 35 animals in 1989 to well over 100 animals in 1994.
Question: Staff analysis of the bill says that "the only management strategy closed to the Department of Fish and Game under Proposition 117 is the allowance of random killing of mountain lions by amateur sport hunters." Is this interpretation correct in the view of either yourself or the DFG? What management strategies are the DFG allowed to pursue under Proposition 117 and the Fish and Game code, and what management strategies are you prevented from pursuing?
The DFG disagrees that the only strategy not available under existing law is "random killing" of lions by hunters. There are a number of other options which could be used to manage mountain lions and reduce conflicts which now exist. They include the following:
-Allowing the use of foot snares to take mountain lions causing damage to property;
-Eliminating restrictions on depredation permits to allow the taking of an offending lion beyond a 10-day period after damage has occurred.
-Allowing the take of mountain lions in historic problem areas where the removal of individual lions after threats to public safety or property damage has occurred, when the take of individual lions has failed to alleviate the problems; and
-Allowing the take of mountain lions in areas where excessive predation on other intensively managed wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, is limiting populations.
Question: Evidence was presented that under current management techniques 121 mountain lions were killed last year, a sharp increase over previous years. Is it the judgement of Fish and Game that still more management tools are necessary?
Yes, it is Fish and Game's conclusion that additional management options are necessary to minimize conflicts associated with mountain lions, including public safety threats, property damage and excess predation on other wildlife. There were 322 confirmed incidents of mountain lion damage to pets and livestock and 121 mountain lions killed on depredation permits in 1994. This compares with five to 10 confirmed incidents of damage and one to five lions killed annually in the early 1970s.
Question: Do you believe thinning of the mountain lion population is a management tool that is banned by Proposition 117? If so, would you like to employ thinning as a management tool? If so, do you believe that reducing mountain lion population by killing a specific number will lead to greater public safety?
The DFG's interpretation of the existing law resulting from Proposition 117 is that killing an arbitrary number of lions in an area is prohibited as a management tool.
The option of reducing the mountain lion population in a given area needs to be judged on the intended objective. If the objective is to reduce excessive predation on state-listed bighorn sheep to allow recovery, the action would be a management tool, as documented by the Lee Vining Canyon example referred to earlier. In addition, evidence obtained by the DFG in 1984-1985 indicates that removal of mature male lions in areas with historic livestock damage problems as a preventative measure resulted in reduced levels of livestock damage in subsequent years.
Although reducing lion densities may reduce the potential for threats to public safety, it will not provide a guarantee against such attacks. Since they are effective natural predators, any lion could pose a threat. With the limited sample of six confirmed mountain lion attacks in California since 1990, it is difficult to specifically correlate attacks on humans with scientifically documented lion densities.
Human attacks have occurred in states where lion hunting is authorized. However, removal of less than 10 percent of the lion population, which is normally the result of recreational hunting, would not be expected to sufficiently reduce lion densities to result in lowering the potential for human attacks.
From a scientific basis, it would likely be necessary to reduce a lion population by 25-50 percent in order to reduce competition for food between lions and thereby reduce the potential for the predatory act of attacking humans. There is no evidence available to the DFG that this hypothesis has been tested through a scientifically evaluated experiment.
Question: If sport hunting of mountain lions was permitted as a management technique, how would it address the question of preventing random mountain lion attacks in various parts of California?
Recreational hunting of mountain lions would not be expected to prevent public safety threats unless it involved removal of a significant portion of the mountain lion population. This concept is validated by evidence of mountain lion attacks in other western states which currently authorize hunting of mountain lions. Stated earlier, it is likely that removal of 25-50 percent of the lion population would be necessary to sufficiently reduce competition for food among lions in order to reduce the potential for threats to public safety. Once again, it could not be offered as a guarantee against human attacks but may serve to lower the probability of such attacks.
Question: Evidence was presented that a paw print or other signs of a mountain lion presence on school grounds are insufficient to be considered an imminent threat. Does the DFG feel that such evidence should be considered an imminent threat for purposes of justifying the killing of the suspect lion?
Presence of a mountain lion does not necessarily constitute a threat to public safety. When a mountain lion or mountain lion tracks are observed in the vicinity of a school or any urban area, yet no actual demonstrated threat to human safety occurs, appropriate action may include informing the public and residents of the area of the verified presence of a mountain lion.
LION HOUNDS by Dave Fjelline
What makes a person gravitate to hounds? C.S. Lewis once wrote that there are four kinds of love. The affection of animals is one. It's the least discriminating of loves. The hound is so honest - that's the only way I can say it. And that's a quality worthy to embrace.
In return, the hound gives you his total devotion. He will sacrifice himself for you unquestioningly. It's a trait we'd like maybe in humans, but we don't see it much - sometimes in war. The hounds teach you humility. I'm convinced critics of trailing hounds have never been exposed to them.
Listening to the voices of the hounds is like listening to the pitches and tempos of music. I can understand the excitement of an opera. You anticipate what's coming next. The hounds' voices reverberate across the canyon walls, and you predict what will happen. Or you're frustrated - hearing that frustration in their voices, when they can't find the trail, can't find where the lion left the kill site last, for example. Or you're satisfied, because they are satisfied, and they sing that out. Each hound has a different voice. I had one hound who sounded like a bell. Another like a tuba.
And their voices together are like a symphony. The frustration of a cold trail. Then building, building, then the epiphany when they tree. Listening, I feel elation. More than getting there and seeing the cat.
When I was a kid, I'd lie in bed at night too young to go out with the hunters and just listen to the hounds. When I was a little older, I'd go along with the men. But I wasn't allowed to have a hound. Then when I was 16, the older hunters gave me my first dog. It was a rite of passage. I wasn't really ready, but that old dog taught me. He ignored my mistakes. He sensed far more than I could comprehend.
They are more than tools. Without my hounds, I am not a lion researcher, not a lion hunter. They are the foundation of my process, extending my senses so that I can enter the world of the wild animal. Some men extend their human limitations with a microscope, some with a laser. In my work, it's with the hounds.
The hounds will give their all to tree the lion. And you'll hear their voices: frustration, frustration, doubt! Then suddenly: success. And their voices tell you, "We did it, Boss. We're on top now!"
There're times I don't want to climb down those canyons. But when the hounds bark "Treed!" you have to go through with your part.
Choosing a hound - well, sometimes the dog chooses you. You might look at a litter, and not particularly notice one, maybe it's not the best looking. But it will reach out to you in some way, and something passes between you. And that cements the bond. You need that bond to work with the dog.
First, I teach basic obedience. Without that, you can't teach him anything else. Actually you're teaching yourself to fit in with the hound's natural skills. I've heard people say, "go to the Pound and get some dogs to hunt with." But these are not ordinary dogs. A good trailing hound is the result of bloodlines bred for generations. Mine are from a basic background of French blue tick and red tick. The right instincts have to be in their blood or you can't train them at all.
If he's good material, and you've given him the basics, then you train a young hound to hunt by working him with an older, experienced dog. You restrain him until he shows an interest in what the older dog is doing. When the scent fades, he gets bored, and then he's ripe to go off on his own. You have to convince him that certain animals are forbidden.
He works and works with the old dog. Then one day, if you have an easy lion or a bobcat, you let that young dog do it on his own. First off, he'll look around to find the older one, his teacher. Then it'll hit him! This is his! And if he's successful, you'll hear joy in his voice.
You train them on lions by letting them trail only lions. They get the idea. You put them on the scent and they know it's lion you want. When my dogs are trained, I can take them through a herd of sheep and they won't look sideways.
Some are easy to influence. Heavy scolding will suffice. Others are so hardheaded, sad to say, physical punishment may be necessary. Mild electric shock instills fear, but no physical after-effects, as would happen with a whip.
Chasing deer and livestock is the worst of bad. Deer and livestock are everywhere. And what you want is the lion. Another very bad trait is infighting. Fighting, injury - even death - these things will happen, but you absolutely do not tolerate them. A fighter is of no use to you or the other hounds.
Hounds have to work as a team. One may strike the fresh scent first, three out of five times. And another may find it best when the track is lost. The others need to honor these things.
Once the hounds are on the scent, it's their time. My trust is placed in them. When I turn them loose, I put on their radio collars. I used to worry to death about losing a dog in these canyons. And I did lose one, too. Old Billy was my present top dog's grandfather. Best hound I had. He and two others disappeared during a hunt on the river. I got the other two back - people found them and telephoned me. I looked for Billy for 20 days - went out every day - took off time from work. I don't know to this day what happened to him. Did the lion kill him? Did he fall and injure himself? Did he drown? Having a dog lost or injured - you can deal with that. But never knowing - that's the worst kind of misery. The radio collars have put the fun back in the hunt for me.
We can spend years developing a line of hounds. A good pup costs about $250-$300. A promising two-year-old, maybe $3,000. For a prime 5-year-old, you can pay $5,000 and up. He'll hunt for you for another four or five years.
A good hound is worth all that and more. You'll not only capture lions. You'll learn something about the dog and the animals you're hunting - and yourself - until the day he dies.
Dave Fjelline is a lion tracker in Placer County.
CARING FOR CAPTURED WILDLIFE by Jeanne Clark
As Bob Teagle and Ben Nuckolls walk toward the animal holding facility at the Department of Fish and Game's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL), Nuckolls makes a chirping whistle. A chorus of high-pitched whistles answers his greeting.
"Chow time," Nuckolls smiles.
"Those three cats are amazing," says Teagle. "You've got them trained, Ben."
The "cats" are feisty mountain lion kittens these Fish and Gamers have raised since receiving the orphaned youngsters. It's meal time and the trio cluster near the enclosure gate - a scene that's been played out seven days a week, for nearly seven months, since the cubs were about two months old. It's a common scene at the WIL, which has raised more than a half-dozen kittens, 15 fawns, and cared for dozens of other animals during the past year.
Sometimes these animals make newspaper headlines. "Mountain Lion Captured in Fair Oaks," "Hot Tub Bear Given Reprieve," or "Kittens from Depredating Cougar Are Saved." Sometimes the celebrity animal stays in the news for a few days. In rare cases reporters will "revisit" a special animal, such as Samson the "hot tub" bear, or Willow, the orphaned offspring of a mountain lion that killed an El Dorado County jogger. Only a fraction of the animals that the DFG handles become celebrities through media coverage. Yet all of them are examined, held, and tended with the same commitment.
Why have these animals been captured? Who ends up caring for them? Can all of the animals adjust to their captive surroundings? And what does their future hold?
First Stop Wildlife Investigations Laboratory
Animals are captured for many reasons. A marauding bear shows up in town and raids neighborhood garbage containers. A mountain lion follows a creek into a residential development and naps in a tree in a suburban backyard. A deer stops traffic on a busy freeway. A sheep-killing female mountain lion with offspring is shot on a depredation permit and her kittens are located and rescued.
"I've got a full house now," says Bill Clark, Coordinator of the Department s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL). Normally the WIL is the first stop for displaced, orphaned, or "problem" wildlife that are captured.
"During May we cared for two bears, three young mountain lions, a bobcat, several deer, and a large assortment of raccoons and small mammals," observes Clark. "We handle all of the "common" species from deer and coyotes to waterfowl and birds of prey. We also care for animals seized as evidence in court cases, so we've taken in alligators, coatimundis, and other exotic species."
Clark relies heavily on licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities to provide extended care for common, low risk species that need nursing. Fish and Game, however, cares for all of the bears, mountain lions, and other feline species.
As soon as the animal arrives at the WIL, staff wildlife veterinarian Pam Swift gives it a thorough physical examination and takes medical samples to screen for diseases. The WIL has one of the nation's largest serum banks and health profiles for many species. In fact, it routinely provides blood samples and other specimens to researchers nationwide for their studies. When a sick mountain lion brought to the WIL a few years ago tested positive for feline leukemia, the WIL knew it had documented North America's first case of the disease among a free-ranging wild feline.
After checking the animal's health Clark and his staff then spend time observing the animal, noting its habits and how well it's adapting to captivity.
"After spending a few weeks with an animal, we can tell whether it's a good candidate for placement and what type of facility it needs," says Clark. Even though they're all wild, some individuals seem to adjust to captivity better than others.
"Very few of the animals we hold are relocated to the wild," he says. "Captured animals that can be relocated are normally taken to another site and released immediately, or within a few days. Holding an animal for a prolonged period, and then releasing it just doesn't work. Every day you hold an animal, it becomes more habituated to people. This is the last thing you want to cultivate in bears or mountain lions."
Apparently bad habits also die hard. Once a mountain lion successfully kills pets or livestock, it has a tendency to repeat these behaviors. This is one of the reasons why relocation is not an option in most cases.
"We're usually just relocating the problem," says Clark. "It may make the people in one community happy to give the animal another chance, but invariably, these relocated animals just get into trouble again."
A young male mountain lion pushed out of its home range by a fire was treed by neighborhood dogs in a school yard near Stockton. Since the lion hadn't caused any problems, and since public pressure was high to give it another chance, the cat was relocated to remote U.S. Forest Service land on the Sierra Crest above Bear Valley. Several road-killed deer were left to encourage it to remain near the release site.
Within one month it had made its way to a distant foothill community, where it killed and ate several pet pygmy goats. After all of this effort, the lion was killed on a depredation permit. From the goats owner perspective, the mountain lion's second chance was a death warrant for his goats.
"No matter what decision we make, we can't please everybody," says Clark. "What is considered a responsible and ethical decision by some citizens is often viewed as an irresponsible act by others.
"Mountain lions are especially difficult to relocate because they require large territories," says Clark. A male needs 100 square miles. A female requires less, approximately 25 to 60 square miles. Most of the problem lions we receive are young lions which were trying to establish a territory. They are pushed out of an area by resident lions while competing for territory and prey, wander into suburban areas and are captured. We've tried relocating several lions. This process usually repeats itself."
Consequently, most of the animals that come to the WIL are not potential candidates for release to the wild. They are animals that will be placed in a zoo or other facility if they are healthy, adaptable to confinement, and a suitable site can be located. While the search is mounted, day-to-day care is provided.
While at the WIL, every facet of a wild animal's well-being must be considered. Even the simple task of arranging for cage space can be challenging. Can two male mountain lions be placed in adjacent enclosures? Where can a raccoon occupying the large enclosure be moved to make room for another bear? It may take several hours to immobilize WIL "residents," move them, and disinfect enclosures to make room for another animal at the WIL.
Food is also a challenge. The WIL knows the dietary requirements of each species. In the wild, mountain lions favor deer, but they will also eat smaller species. The WIL has a standing order with CalTrans and Animal Control to bring fresh, road-killed deer to the facility.
Orphaned young require special milk formulas, feeding bottles, and day and night time feeding schedules. It's not at all unusual to walk into a WIL office during baby season and see a flight kennel with a mountain lion kitten or fawn in it. These caretakers are so adept some can even nurse the youngsters while conducting an informal meeting or business on the phone!
Fresh water is available at all times.
Anyone who's raised a litter of puppies knows they involve a lot of work and a lot of mess.
"The mess just gets bigger with larger animals," says Nuckolls.
More than two dozen animal cages and enclosures are cleaned daily and disinfected on a regular schedule. This is necessary for the animal's comfort and to reduce the incidence of diseases. All of the large enclosures have been specially designed with dens for privacy areas where the animals can also be confined during cleaning. This allows the enclosure to be cleaned thoroughly and safely. The dens are heated to keep the animals warm in the winter. Roof insulation helps keep things cool in the summer.
Animals that are held for long periods of time are medically sampled and routinely examined. Blood tests help screen for dietary deficiencies. Animals that arrive with illnesses or injuries are treated. To handle an animal, most must be chemically immobilized and monitored carefully. Sometimes it's necessary for the WIL to make outside arrangements for x-rays or special laboratory procedures. In these cases the animals are immobilized and transported to another site, then returned.
The entire facility must also be prepared for the emergencies. Portable fans are available to improve air circulation during exceptionally hot weather. One cold winter evening, the water pipes froze and a crew had to come in to temporarily rig a watering system.
Care for these animals is a 24-hour responsibility and can be very labor-intensive. When animals remain at the WIL for months, as many do, it can also be very costly.
"It's easy for the public to ask for wildlife to be saved," says Clark, "Heck, we love wildlife and want to save, release, or place as many as we can, too. But people have no idea what it's like to raise the youngsters and care for the adults. They have no idea how hard it is becoming to locate good, permanent homes for animals that cannot be released."
Clark has a file bulging with leads he has followed over the years. The leads are matched to a set of standards aimed at providing wild animals with the largest, most secure enclosures. Natural settings are highly desired but rarely available because of the acreage required and security risks.
"Some of the offers we've received come from well-intentioned people who consider a good enclosure to be an 8 x 8 foot cement and chain link cage in a back yard. For some wild animals euthanasia is much kinder than subjecting it to such a loss of freedom," said Clark. Animals placed in less-than-suitable sites develop psychological problems. They pace. They refuse to eat. They break teeth on metal caging. In a word, they are visibly displaying their suffering.
When Clark has an animal to place he makes calls and advertises in a publication for the American Association of Zoo Practioners, which reaches zoos worldwide. Mountain lions are exceptionally difficult to place in zoos, particularly older animals. Zoos usually prefer very young animals because they are easier to care for, safer to handle, and are more adaptable to being viewed by people
Over the years Fish and Game has also amassed a list of educational or private licensed facilities. While offers may roll in following media coverage, when the facilities are checked out, very few are actually suitable for holding a large mammal. And the DFG is unwilling to consign a wild animal, which has known freedom its entire life, to an enclosure that fails to meet minimum standards. Many of these places have generously taken large mammals and most are already overburdened with animals requiring care. One facility in southern California has more than 75 large felines, ranging from African lions to ocelots.
"We are very grateful to have found these placements," says Clark. "But we are sometimes reluctant to continue to place more at the same sites. These people are very dedicated and I know it's tough for kind-hearted people to say no."
Ben's and Bob's three kittens are another story. They arrived at the WIL as orphans. One was rescued by a Humboldt County firefighter during a fire. The other two came from a Butte County backyard. Rescuers surmise their mother was shot.
Even though young animals are easier to place, Clark could not find a zoo in the entire country that wanted another mountain lion. California is not the only state trying to place orphaned or displaced wildlife: There's lots of local competition. These three young mountain lions were finally placed at Shambala, a licensed private facility in California operated by actress Tippi Hedron. Although the facility already has several cats, they were willing to make room for three more.
Clark has been able to place nearly every mountain lion he's handled in recent years. He's a realist, though.
"I'd like to maintain this track record, but it's getting harder and taking longer for me to find good placements, " he says. "It's awfully easy for people to say: Save that animal.' I just wonder sometimes if they have any idea of the challenges we face."
Jeanne Clark is a freelance consultant who has worked on a variety of DFG projects.
RAISING A MOUNTAIN LION KITTEN by Jeanne Clark
Surely you remember "Willow?" All teeth and fangs at its news conference debut, this scrappy survivor was the subject of a four-day search in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
Its mother had killed El Dorado County jogger, Barbara Schoener, and the cat, in turn had been shot. When she was found to be lactating, an intense search was mounted for her cub. A dog with a good nose finally picked up the trail to the cub's den.
Clark's team of searchers found the six-week-old, dehydrated kitten. Bob Teagle hiked a mile back to Base Camp, carrying the frightened, shivering cub in his shirt.
It took several weeks of intensive "doctoring" to stabilize the kitten. Throughout this time someone had to serve as a surrogate mom. Those duties were shared by Teagle and Ben Nuckolls. The kitten lived in a flight kennel in their offices, where they could easily accomplish the feedings every few hours.
"A meal was a bottle filled with Kitten Milk Replacement formula," says Teagle. "Normally, after a meal, mom vigorously licks her cub to stimulate elimination. We accomplished the same thing by rubbing him with a cloth. Elimination was not always forthcoming but, invariably, when you went to do the next feeding, you'd need to do a clean up job first," Nuckolls adds.
Nuckolls devised a system for helping the frightened kitten bond to him. Before each feeding, he'd whistle a special call. The calling process helped calm the kitten and speed its conditioning to the feeding process.
"I know people get this touching image of feeding a tiny, helpless animal," says Nuckolls. "And it is a special process. But they forget about the work involved. I bet we fed and cleaned the kitten eight to 10 times a day."
As the weeks slipped by, the rambunctious cub outgrew the kennel.
"At first, I thought it was sort of fun to leave him loose in my office," says Teagle. "But as he got stronger, he'd jump on my desk, knock over files and papers, and pee on anything flat."
Nuckolls and Teagle also shared night time and weekend duty. They did this strictly out of love. Neither received any extra compensation for the hundreds of extra hours they donated. "If your life hasn't already been disrupted by frequent feedings, your friends and family complete the process," says Teagle. "Every person you've ever known wants to come over to see the kitten. It's hard to say no and it's hard to get anything done!"
Teagle remembers the first time he left the kitten in his bathroom overnight. A perfect place, he thought. The tile floor would be easy to clean. He was right. The tile floor was easy to clean.
"But when I opened the door in the morning, I hadn't counted on the little bugger unrolling the entire roll of toilet paper. Or jumping and snatching towels onto the floor. Or batting the soap around the room."
Once the kitten got older, it even chewed a corner of the dry wall in the bathroom.
"I thought my five-year-old boy was a handful," recalls Teagle. "But this kitten could run away faster and hide better than my child. Once I had to move the couch to find the kitten. When I did, I also found several little "calling cards" he had deposited there."
In addition to offering a lot of patience and compassion, Nuckolls is an licensed Animal Health Technician and was able to administer intravenous fluids and complete other medical procedures to help the kitten.
"Some of the kittens I've nursed came to me so young their umbilical cords were still moist and their eyes were closed, " says Nuckolls. "Willow was dehydrated and malnourished. It took us a while to get him stabilized."
Like Teagle, Nuckolls' family and friends got pretty excited when he brought a new charge home.
"But lately, when I come in the door with another kennel, they hardly respond. They're so used to seeing me with some young animal that needs care."
Note: Thanks to Bob's and Ben's patient ministrations, this healthy kitten was given to the Folsom Zoo. The zoo had a contest to name the youngster, and "Willow" was chosen. According to Terry Jenkins, zoo manager, Willow is thriving and has adapted well to zoo life.
Jeanne Clark is a freelance consultant who has worked on a variety of DFG projects.