Itzel Arias Del Razo is a biologist studying carnivore populations in the region surrounding Tlaxcala, a couple hours away from Mexico City. Dr. Del Razo was instrumental in translating “La vida secreta de los pumas" helping WildFutures create the most comprehensive and relevant Spanish version of the Secret Lives of Mountain Lions. Recently, we had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work and specifically about pumas (as they refer to the animal we call a "mountain lion") in the region. We really appreciate Dr. Del Razo taking the time to share with us about her work and some of the research currently being done about the little-known South American puma and other carnivores in the region.
How did you get into working with pumas?
¿Cómo te involucraste en el estudio de los pumas?
Desde niña he sentido gran admiración y amor por los animales, con el paso de los años tuve claro que quería trabajar con ellos y para ellos, por eso decidí estudiar biología y especializarme en ecología. Esto me ha permitido conocer aspectos básicos de la biología de las especies, cómo se relacionan entre sí e interactúan con el medio ambiente en el que viven. Me incliné por el estudio de los mamíferos y en particular de los carnívoros, así que al final de mis estudios de licenciatura empecé a buscar opciones para realizar mi proyecto de tesis. En ese entonces tuve la fortuna de conocer a John Laundré ¡un experto en pumas! que estaba coordinando un estudio a largo plazo con pumas en Idaho y empezaba a trabajar con una población reintroducida de borrego cimarrón, platicamos en uno de sus viajes a la ciudad de México y me aceptó como su estudiante, fue así que empecé a trabajar con carnívoros y sus presas.
Since I was a little, I have felt an immense amount of admiration and love of animals. With age it became clear that I wanted to work with them and for them and because of this decided to study biology and specialize in ecology. This allowed me to learn basic concepts about the biology of species, like how they relate and interact with the environment that they live in. I was inclined to study mammals and in particular carnivores so at the end of my bachelor’s degree I began to look for PhD thesis options. This is how I had the good fortune of meeting John Laundre, an expert in pumas, who was organizing a long-term study with pumas in Idaho. He had started to work with the reintroduced population of Bighorn Sheep. We talked about his trips to Mexico City and he accepted me to be his student. It was like this that I started to work with carnivores and their prey.
Can you tell us about what you are working on with respect to pumas?
¿Puedes decirnos en que consiste tu investigación actual?
Después de concluir mi estancia postdoctoral en la Universidad de Stanford llegue a trabajar a la Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala (UATx). Tlaxcala se ubica en la parte central del país, muy cerca de la ciudad de México (2 horas manejando), la región está rodeada por volcanes y pequeñas sierras que forman parte de la faja Volcánica Transmexicana. En general las zonas montañosas aún conservan flora y fauna nativa, sin embargo, los valles y las regiones menos agrestes están muy degradadas pues cuentan con una historia de explotación que se remonta a la época prehispánica. El problema como en muchas otras regiones, es que las zonas menos perturbadas se han ido fragmentando y quedado aisladas, por lo que la supervivencia de las especies está en riesgo.
After finishing my postdoctoral study at Stanford, I left to work at UATx (Autonomous University of Tlaxcala). Tlaxcala is located in the center of my country, near Mexico City (two hours driving). The region is surrounded by volcanoes and small mountains that form part of the TransMexican Volcano Belt. In general, the mountainous areas are very degraded because they have a history of exploitation that dates back to prehispanic times. The problem is that in many other regions, the less perturbed areas are fragmented and isolated, and because of this the survival of the species that live there is at risk.
Mi investigación está enfocada a evaluar el estado de conservación de las poblaciones de carnívoros en esta región. Me interesa conocer en qué zonas se distribuyen especies como el puma, coyote, gato montés, zorro gris, etc. Para ello en colaboración con un grupo de 19 investigadores de las universidades de Stanford, Kansas, Bath, UNAM y de mi universidad (UATx) estamos buscando financiamiento para llevar a cabo un estudio multidisciplinario y multi taxonómico utilizando las técnicas más avanzadas en ecología y genética de poblaciones, para evaluar: 1) la ocurrencia de especies, 2) la existencia de flujo genético entre las poblaciones, y 3) los patrones de dispersión, a fin de contar con el conocimiento necesario para definir qué áreas son prioritarias para la conservación y movilidad de las especies entre fragmentos, es decir, identificar áreas que potencialmente puedan funcionar como un corredor biológico que comunique los rematantes de vegetación (ej. el bosque de Nanacamilpa) con los dos Parques Nacionales de esta región Iztaccíhuatl- Popocatépetl (http://iztapopo.conanp.gob.mx/) y La Malinche.
My study is focused on evaluating the conservation status of populations of carnivores in the region. I’m interested in learning the distribution areas of species like pumas, coyotes, wildcats, South American Gray Foxes, etc. To do this, I collaborate with 19 other researchers that include Stanford, University of Kansas, Bath, UNAM and UATx. We are looking for funding to carry out a multi-disciplinary and multi-taxonomic study using the most advanced techniques in ecology and population genetics, to evaluate: 1) the occurrence of species, 2) the existence of genetic flow among populations, and 3) patterns of dispersion, in order to have the necessary knowledge to define which areas are priority for the conservation and mobility of species between fragments. We would identify the areas that can potentially function as a biological corridor that communicates forests (eg the Nanacamilpa forest) with the two National Parks of this region Iztaccíhuatl- Popocatépetl (http://iztapopo.conanp.gob.mx/) and La Malinche.
How is the relative status of the population of pumas in your study area?
¿Cuál es el estatus de las poblaciones de Puma en tu área de estudio?
Desafortunadamente el puma en Tlaxcala está catalogado como una especie localmente extirpada, a consecuencia de la cacería furtiva y de otras actividades antropogénicas. Sin embargo, un estudio publicado en 2014 (Ramírez-Albores et al. DOI:10.7550/rmb.30485) reporta que en 2009 encontraron huellas y excrementos frescos en un área boscosa del municipio de Nanacamilpa, al noroeste del estado. Aunque lo más alentador para mí, es que hace un par de años (2016) platicando con un tlachiquero (persona que trabaja extrayendo el aguamiel del maguey) me contó que habían visto a un puma en esa misma región ¡eso me dio esperanzas! Puede ser que no todo esté perdido y aún podamos ayudar a esta y muchas otras especies que son fundamentales para nuestros ecosistemas.
Unfortunately, the puma in Tlaxcala is classified as a locally extirpated species, as a result of poaching and other anthropogenic activities. However, a study published in 2014 (Ramírez-Albores et al. DOI: 10.7550 / rmb.30485) reports that in 2009 they found fresh traces and excrements in a wooded area of the municipality of Nanacamilpa, in the northwest of the state. For me, the most encouraging story is from a tlachiquero (person who works extracting mead from the maguey) who a couple years ago told me that they had seen a cougar in that same region. Perhaps not all is not lost and we can still help the puma and many other species that are fundamental to our ecosystems.
What is your guess about the major threats to the species in your study area?
¿Cuáles crees que son las mayores amenazas a la especie en tu área de estudio?
Los seres humanos son la mayor amenaza, aparte de la cacería, envenenamientos y atropellamientos, las actividades humanas han degradado los ecosistemas de la región, destruyendo el hábitat y eliminado casi por completo a las presas (venados, pecarís). Si queremos que el puma y otras especies regresen, tenemos que empezar por identificar cuáles son las áreas prioritarias para la conservación y enfocar nuestros esfuerzos en educar a la población, conservar y restaurar la flora y fauna nativa. Una vez que contemos con estos tres componentes estoy segura que podremos volver a disfrutar de su presencia.
Human beings are the biggest threat, between hunting, poisoning and road kill, habitat destruction, environmental degradation, and almost complete elimination of the prey (deer, peccaries). If we want the puma and other species to return, we have to start by identifying which are the priority areas for conservation and focus our efforts on educating the population, conserving and restoring the native flora and fauna. Once we have these three components, I am sure that we will be able to enjoy their presence again.
What is your greatest challenging working with these animals?
¿Cuál es tu mayor desafío al trabajar con estos animales?
En mi región hay tres grandes retos: 1) la intolerancia de los pobladores hacia los depredadores, derivado de la falta de conocimiento de los beneficios que brindan a los ecosistemas y al ser humano, lo que se conoce como servicios ambientales; 2) Las pocas fuentes de financiamiento. Actualmente mi país pasa por una crisis económica y fuertes problemas de corrupción, como consecuencia de ello se han disminuido los montos asignados a ciencia y tecnología y por ello los recursos son muy limitados, y 3) la inseguridad, que trae consigo el robo de equipo y la restricción de movilidad para los investigadores, pues algunas zonas son consideradas peligrosas.
Como podrán darse cuenta los desafíos no están directamente relacionados con la especie, sino con la falta de educación, la situación económica y la inseguridad que aquejan a México.
In my region there are three major challenges: 1) the intolerance of people towards predators, due to lack of knowledge of the benefits they provide to the ecosystem and human systems (e.g. environmental services). 2) There is not enough funding for conservation. Currently my country is going through an economic crisis and intense corruption problems, as a result of which the amounts allocated to science and technology have been reduced and therefore government resources are very limited. 3) Lack of security. Equipment theft and the mobility restriction are not uncommon issues for researchers, as there are still many areas that are considered too dangerous.
The challenges are not directly related to pumas, but rather to the lack of education, the economic situation and the insecurity that afflict Mexico.
What can people in the U.S do to contribute to advancing the conservation of Pumas in your region? What do you think people in Mexico can be doing to advance the conservation of Pumas?
¿Qué pueden hacer las personas en los Estados Unidos para contribuir al avance de la conservación de los Pumas en tu región? ¿Qué crees que pueda hacer la gente de México para avanzar en la conservación de los Pumas?
Creo que una de las formas más afectivas de apoyar la conservación es mediante la creación de fondos destinados a la investigación y conservación de la biodiversidad. La compra de tierras que puedan ser destinadas a la conservación y el monitoreo constante son actividades que han resultado exitosas, pero cada región es distinta y deben implementarse metodologías y estrategias adecuadas y en las que los pobladores sean una pieza central.
I believe that one of the most effective ways of supporting conservation is through the creation of funds for research and conservation of biodiversity. The purchase of land that can be used for conservation and constant monitoring has been successful, but each region is different and adequate methodologies and strategies must be implemented, considering all inhabitants.
Dos de los problemas más grandes que tenemos son: la falta de educación y la pobreza. Por ello es fundamental que se establezcan programas de educación ambiental continua y se busque incentivar la conservación de la biodiversidad mediante compensaciones, el nivel económico en que viven la mayoría de los propietarios de las tierras no les permite darse el lujo de conservar, pues entonces no tendrían con qué satisfacer sus necesidades básicas. Creo que los investigadores mexicanos tenemos que trabajar en conjunto con las organizaciones guberamentales, ONGs (nacionales e internacionales) y con los pobladores, para definir cuáles son las estrategias más adecuadas para cada región y buscar la forma de contar con recursos para compensar a los dueños de las tierras (ej. pago por servicios ambientales), a fin de que cuenten con un ingreso adicional y se vuelvan nuestros aliados en la conservación de los recursos naturales.
Two of the biggest problems we have are lack of education and poverty. For this reason, it is essential to establish ongoing environmental education programs and seek to encourage the conservation of biodiversity through compensation. The salary that most landowners have does not allow them to save, and often can’t even tend to their basic needs. I think that Mexican researchers have to work together with governmental organizations, NGOs (national and international) and with the villagers, to define which are the most appropriate strategies for each region and look for ways to compensate landowners (eg payment for environmental services), so that they have additional income and become our allies in the conservation of natural resources.
Any other comments about your work or pumas that you would like people to know?
¿Algún otro comentario sobre tu trabajo o pumas que quisieras que la gente supiera?
Me parece muy importante e interesante el trabajo que está llevando a cabo WildFutures para apoyar la conservación de carnívoros y en particular del puma. Me da gusto que busquen ampliar sus horizontes a Latinoamérica, pues considero que los materiales educativos que están produciendo en español son de gran calidad y pueden ayudar a sensibilizar a la población.
I think the work that WildFutures is carrying out to support the conservation of carnivores and in particular the puma is very important and interesting. I am pleased that you seek to expand your horizons to Latin America, because I believe that the educational materials that are being produced in Spanish are of high quality and can help to sensitize the public.
Gracias por darme la oportunidad de expresar mis opiniones y dar a conocer el trabajo que estamos realizando en la región central de México, es muy importante que la gente sepa qué estamos haciendo y los estudiantes interesados en participar en los proyectos se acerquen a nosotros.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my opinions and make known the work we are doing in the central region of Mexico. It is very important that people know what we are doing and the students interested in participating in the projects come to us.
Dra. Itzel Arias Del Razo
Centro Tlaxcala de Biología de la Conducta
Universidad Autónoma de Tlaxcala
For Immediate Release, January 11, 2018
Contact: J.P. Rose, Center for Biological Diversity, (408) 497-7675, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Nelson, Sierra Club, (951) 767-2324, email@example.com
Lynn Cullens, Mountain Lion Foundation, (916) 606-1610, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki Long, Cougar Connection, (951) 698-9366, email@example.com
Lawsuit Challenges Development That Could Doom California's Santa Ana Mountain Lions
TEMECULA, Calif.— Conservation organizations sued the city of Temecula today for approving the Altair housing development, which would endanger the local mountain lion population by disrupting critical wildlife corridors. The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Mountain Lion Foundation and Cougar Connection.
Today’s suit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, notes that the Altair project would urbanize approximately 200 acres of open space for a mixed-use development and a multi-lane highway in the hills above Old Town Temecula. Part of the development sits on the 55-acre “South Parcel” — the only passage left for wildlife to move between coastal and inland mountains through the Santa Margarita River, Temecula Creek and the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which are adjacent to the project.
“The city council’s Altair approval ignored scientists’ warnings that developing the South Parcel will severely limit mountain lion movement in Southern California,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s deeply disturbing that the city refused to make reasonable modifications to the development to avoid damaging a critical corridor for these iconic predators.”
As few as 20 adult Santa Ana mountain lions survive, and they suffer from severe genetic restriction because overdevelopment already curtails their movements.
“The project’s poor design will put mountain lions directly into residential areas, creating conflicts between lions and people,” said Lynn Cullens of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “These lions already suffer from high mortality rates, vehicle collisions, and a lack of genetic diversity due to urban sprawl and highways. Altair could be the final nail in the coffin for this crucial population of magnificent animals.”
“Scientists have documented consistent use of the South Parcel by mountain lions,” said Vicki Long of Cougar Connection. “The city should be strengthening this critical corridor instead of literally putting up barriers to mountain lion movement.”
Altair also does not do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. “Even though the city has a duty to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the project, the city did not even require common sense measures like rooftop solar,” said Pam Nelson of the Sierra Club’s Santa Margarita Group, which has spent over a year coordinating with the city and other agencies in an effort to ensure the development complies with the law.
The project would install homes within a few feet of the proposed “western bypass” highway in the hills above Old Town Temecula. The western bypass would not only scar these scenic hills, but would expose Altair residents to significant automotive pollution that can lead to higher rates of asthma, lung cancer and premature death.
The conservation organizations repeatedly raised these concerns in comment letters, public hearings and meetings with the city. The city’s approval of the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that when environmental impacts are significant, the approving agency must adopt all feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce those impacts. The city’s approval of the project also violates the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.
The Mountain Lion Foundation is a national non-profit organization founded in 1986. For 30 years, the Foundation has worked with member volunteers, activists and partner organizations to create and further wildlife policies that seek to protect mountain lions, people and domestic animals without resorting to lethal measures. For more information, visit mountainlion.org.
Cougar Connection is a non-profit, public interest organization that is dedicated to the preservation of Puma concolor, Cougar populations, open space, wildlife connectivity, and public education.
Alexa has been instrumental to the success of The Secret Lives of Mountain Lions, and we wanted to ask her a few questions about her participation and see how her experience has been. We hope you enjoy hearing from Alexa about what it has been like working on a project with the potential to affect large-scale environmental decisions.
What attracted you to this project?
I was so excited at the opportunity to work on this project! It combines my passion for wildlife, education and the Spanish language.
I have always loved wildlife. I grew up in and out of the garden, playing with insects. In my teens I monitored rocky intertidal pools and started working for wildlife hospitals, bringing home orphaned wildlife to be hand-raised until they were old enough to be released. In college I studied biology, neuroscience and behavior and dedicated my time outside of school to wildlife medicine. With this experience, I considered myself not only a wildlife advocate, but somewhat of an expert.
When I first saw this footage, I was surprised. The cougars in this footage completely shifted my perspective on the species, forcing me to reconsider so much of what I thought I knew about the species. I believe that this footage has the power to do the same for many more, and this is so important for the conservation of these animals. When our perspectives shift, and we begin to cultivate compassion for mountain lions, ceasing to see them as solitary and only aggressive creatures, we are so much more likely to create space and habitat for them. Like many species, mountain lions biggest threat to survival is human activity. Between developing natural habitats, and trophy hunting, we are pushing mountain lions into smaller and smaller pockets of their range. In order to change this trend, we need to change the way we relate to mountain lions, and the narratives we have created about them. In shifting our perspectives towards mountain lions and other species, cultivating compassion for them and creating space, I believe we also recognize the humanity within ourselves.
What did you contribute to this film?
In order to make La vida secreta de los pumas accessible to the greatest number of Spanish-speakers, I contacted several Spanish speaking biologists both in the U.S. and Latin America. Knowing that within Latin America, there are many different versions of Spanish spoken, we wanted to choose our words and descriptions carefully, so that the largest amount of people would understand. For instance, what I initially thought we might call the video, the direct translation of “The Secret Life of Mountain Lions”, is not what we ended up calling the film, or the term we most commonly used. In fact, most people throughout Latin America know Mountain Lions as “pumas” or “león americano”. Some do refer to the species as “león de montaña”, the direct translation of mountain lion, but this was not the most widely used word, so did not end up being used a lot in the translated script. Along with the help of biologists, friends and a professional translator, and many back and forth conversations, we finally settled on a version. I learned an incredible amount about the Spanish language and the skill of translation in the process.
We were lucky to find Jorge Vázquez Pacheco. We cast a large net, asking our contacts in Latin America if they had any recommendations. We got sample recordings from radio show hosts, actors and others from all across North, Central and South America. We ultimately selected Jorge because we thought he had both a neutral accent and a very clear, expressive way of speaking. He was a joy to work with.
Why did you chose to work with WildFutures?
Previous to working for WildFutures, nearly all of my professional career has been spent doing direct animal care. Upon graduating from college, I set off to gain as much wildlife medicine experience as possible, moving from wildlife hospital, to exotic animal sanctuary, to zoo, learning as much as I could. While I loved the interaction of working with individual animals, I was ultimately somewhat disheartened by the scope of my work. I often could not do nearly as much as I wanted to, and what I was able to do ended with that individual. I found myself looking for work that could go beyond individual patient care, and reach a broader audience, potentially shaping the future for wild animal welfare. Luckily, I met Sharon and she has bravely taken a chance with me, allowing me to participate in this project which I so wholeheartedly believe in.
Have you ever seen a mountain lion in the wild?
While I have never seen a mountain lion in the wild directly, I have had many close encounters with this species. First, when I was in my early twenties, I worked at a zoo as part of a veterinary team. Several times while there I worked with a mountain lion named Johnny, who had been raised by a human family until they had to move and were forced to give him up. While we examined him he would purr and lick our hands through the fence constantly, always incredibly affectionate. Although it sadenned me to see him so confined, living a life so removed from that of a wild mountain lion, I still enjoyed opportunities to interact with him.
More recently however, I have interacted with mountain lions in a different way. I have had the pleasure of monitoring the wildlife camera traps of the ranch that I live on. Nearly once a month we see the same mountain lion traversing across the property. He has an ocular defect in one eye and is known to nearby biologists as Harvey. Although I have never seen him without the help of the cameras, I get great pleasure in the knowledge that I share my space and home with this animal.
Legal Victory Guarantees Analysis of Wildlife Services’ Killings in Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO— In response to a lawsuit filed by wildlife advocacy groups, a San Francisco federal court today approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to implement numerous protections for wildlife in Northern California, including a ban on traps and aerial gunning in designated “wilderness areas.”
Today’s settlement also requires Wildlife Services to analyze the environmental impacts of its killing of coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife in 16 counties in Northern California.
The ironically named Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals — primarily to benefit the agriculture and livestock industries.
“This is a big victory for California wildlife targeted by this federal program’s horrifically destructive war on animals,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit. “We’ve saved hundreds of animals that would have suffered and died in traps set by Wildlife Services over the next several years. That feels really good.”
Under the court order approved today, Wildlife Services must provide, by the end of 2023, an “environmental impact statement” that analyzes the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in California’s North District. The North District includes Butte, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba counties.
Pending completion of that study, which will include robust public commenting opportunities, the court order imposes several measures to protect wildlife in the North District. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans aerial gunning and any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas. The order also requires Wildlife Services to implement several measures to protect California’s endangered gray wolves from being accidentally killed in traps set for other carnivores. These measures include a ban on Conibear traps and non-breakaway snares in areas used by the wolves.
“Wolves are just starting to return to their native habitats in Northern California, and this settlement provides needed interim protections to protect wolves while a detailed environmental study examines whether lethal wildlife ‘management’ options should even be on the table,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “It is long past time that federal agencies stop the killing of native wildlife at the behest of the livestock industry, and ultimately we hope that the added public scrutiny will force a shift to nonlethal options.”
Last year Wildlife Services reported killing 1.6 million native animals nationwide. In California alone this total included 3,893 coyotes, 142 foxes, 83 black bears, 18 bobcats and thousands of other creatures. Nontarget animals — including protected wildlife such as wolves, Pacific fisher and eagles — are at risk from Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate methods.
“For over two decades, Wildlife Services has relied on cruel and outdated methods, such as steel-jaw leghold traps, in California — despite a statewide ban on private use of such devices,” said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute wildlife attorney. “Today’s decision from the court ensures the environmental analysis of the program’s killing of wildlife will receive a much-needed update. California wildlife deserves this protection.”
“Wildlife Services’ lethal ‘control’ is ineffective, wasteful and cruel,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We are changing this clandestine government program state-by-state until wildlife and people are safe on our public lands.”
“With this victory for wildlife we have demonstrated that Wildlife Services has failed to use the best available science and continues to rely on ecologically destructive and ethically indefensible management practices,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “It is past time that this rogue agency shifts to more effective, humane, and ecologically sound ways of reducing conflicts between wildlife and agricultural interests.”
“Thousands of California wildlife will now have a much needed reprieve from the federal killing agency,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This settlement sends the powerful message that Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate killing programs will not go unchallenged.”
The victory announced today is the result of a lawsuit filed in June by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere — in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.
Project Coyote is a national nonprofit organization and a North American coalition of wildlife educators, scientists, ranchers, and community leaders promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, and compassionate conservation through education, science, and advocacy. For more information, visitwww.projectcoyote.org.
Western Watersheds Project is an environmental conservation group working to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.
Cougars are a uniquely adapted creature. They are perfectly evolved to live in their natural habitat, from climbing to running to swimming. They are incredible athletes, without needing to go to a gym a single day in their lives. They do get coaching from their mothers for the first 6 months or so of their lives, but they are born with physical characteristics that make them very well suited to living in the wooded hills and plains throughout their range. Those characteristics make them the beautiful and competent apex predators that they are. Here are a few of their physical characteristics that make them into the perfect balanced package of agility and strength - and beauty.
Cougars are excellent climbers. Not only can they simply leap vertically up to 25 feet, they have highly-curved retractable claws that allow them to grip the tree for climbing.
Mountain lion paws are 3" to 5" wide, and they are about as long as wide, so their tracks are described as square or circular. Their front paws are larger than their back paws. Their wide paws probably help them swim, among many other things they are useful for. Mountain lions have been recorded swimming for 15 minutes and more at a time, and they aren't afraid of water at all.
Cougars have very long tails, which help them to balance. Do you notice anything that looks different about this cougar than many of the others we feature on this site? This cougar lives in captivity. You can tell by the fat belly, which you might recognize if you know any older domestic housecats, who tend to develop the same characteristic.
Cougars have relatively flat faces with prominent front-facing eyes. Their eyes allow them to see a single object with both eyes at the same time (that's called stereoscopic vision, and humans have it too). That's very important to depth perception and the ability to stalk prey. You can't see it in this picture, but they also have a special adaptation to their retinas that gives them great night vision.
With hiking and camping season coming right up in most of the places where mountain lions live, we thought this would be a good time to talk about good mountain lion safety practices for being in the outdoors.
First, you should know that you have incredibly small odds of even seeing a cougar at all, let alone having an interaction with one. If you do see one in a safe manner, you should consider yourself extremely lucky! Very few people in the world will get to see something as awe-inspiring as a wild mountain lion. The threat of a dangerous encounter is very rare.
If you do have an encounter with a cougar it will help to know what steps you can take. You can do this by making noise when you are hiking and biking, especially at dawn and dusk. Travel together with friends. If you enjoy the outdoors with children (we hope you do!), have children stay close to adults.
If you see a cougar at a close range, first and foremost, don't run! And, make yourself look big. Don't bend down to pick up a stick, but if you are already carrying a walking stick or wearing a jacket you can raise it above your head to make yourself look as big as possible. You'll want to use your voice to talk in a loud firm voice and tell the cougar to get away. This video from Western Wildlife Outreach does a great job of showing a demonstration of what this looks like. http://westernwildlife.org/videos/ (it's the first video on the page). Plus it's narrated by Chris Morgan, the same fine voice talent that narrated our Secret Life of Mountain Lions video!
We hope you have great plans this summer for adventures in the wide-open spaces that support cougars AND humans in important wild ways! For more information on how to avoid a negative encounter with a mountain lion, bear or wolf, go to Western Wildlife Outreach website http://westernwildlife.org/videos/
Rat poison kills far more than just rats. The poison, or rodenticide as it's also known, accumulates in the small rodents, which are then eaten by larger animals. This is a problem virtually everywhere, and for all kinds of predators from hawks to bobcats.
Here at The Secret Life of Mountain Lions we were saddened by this recent report of a bobcat that had to be euthanized in the Santa Monica area in California. It's not likely that anyone is trying to poison the big cats on purpose. But the poison makes its way up the food chain without anyone's intent. According to the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, eleven out of twelve mountain lions in their area tested positive for two or more rodent toxin poisons.
What can you do? Educating yourself and those in your neighborhood is always the first step. An organization called Raptors Are The Solution has a great set of tips for alternative ways to manage rodents. And The Hungry Owl Project also has insightful information about how rodenticides get into the food chain, and a very cool suggestion for rodenticide-free management techniques!
You can also spread the word by sharing alternatives with your family, friends, and neighbors, or posting on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below. Thank you for your help!