WildFutures Research Assistant Alexa Boesel Interviews RIch Beausoleil, Bear and Cougar Specialist, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife - October 2018. Rich is featured in our 2018 Wildlife Webinar Series.
Alexa: Could you explain to us your ideal model of coexistence with large carnivores? What role do KBDs play in this?
Rich: Ideally, it is my hope that KBD’s will continue to help us accomplish our agency goals of protecting wildlife on many fronts, but for human-carnivore coexistence to occur, the model is that the dogs help us buy some time, time for the public involved to realize why human-wildlife interactions are occurring in the first place and take the proactive steps necessary to prevent these interactions. The KBDs address the symptoms, not the cure. For coexistence, the cure is personal responsibility if you live in areas where carnivores are present; whether that be proper husbandry practices for goats, sheep, and chickens (8 foot fences, electric fencing, a secure place to house the animals overnight, keeping a clean outfit, etc) and not intentionally or unintentionally feeding wildlife like deer, which is the cougar’s main prey item.
Alexa: What was your introduction to using KBDs in conservation? Who was the first KBD that you met?
Rich: My first introduction to using KBDs was a trip to Glacier National Park to work with Carrie Hunt and her KBDs Cassidy, Satchmo, and Tuffy. Rocky Spencer (my partner at the time) and I made the trip to Montana to assist Carrie in patrolling campgrounds where grizzly bears were known to pass through because campers would leave food items behind. We hazed one grizzly on leash and the dogs were fearless , pushing the bear back safely into the forest. The rest of the afternoon, we did some training and it was during that trip that we both made the decision that we wanted KBDs; we knew there was huge potential for this kind of work in Washington. But. We’ve taken it so much further than just working with bears, as the webinar explains.
Alexa: How much time does a KBD take to be fully “trained” and safely able to do their job?
Rich: It takes about a year and a half of daily training to do this kind of work safely. Most of our agency work is done off-leash and so not only is it training the dogs to find the wildlife we want them to find (like bear & cougar), but it’s the partnership that needs to be fostered, and getting the dog to want to respond to the commands that we use. You have to nurture the bond so that the dog knows that you are their protector, but also that the dog is your protector; you’re both a team and it takes both of you. Then the dog also needs to understand when to bark and be aggressive (e.g. like when we are trying to tree a bear or cougar, or haze them back into the forest), and when to turn it off because we have successfully made the capture (e.g. the animal has been safely chemically immobilized). This is how we teach the KBDs that we aren’t out to hurt the animal. When you see that light go on, and they understand what we are trying to do, it’s a great rewarding feeling.
Alexa: Can you tell us about the individuals you have now? Their ages, how they are related to each other? When they retire, what does their life look like?
Rich: We have had 8 KBD’s on the team in Washington since 2003. As you know, the dogs are purchased with funds donated by the public. So while the agency authorizes the use and transport, and guides the program, the dogs are essentially 100% personal dogs. The agency has a policy that if you decide to leave your job before the dog is 8 years old, then the dog stays and gets partnered with another handler. However, that is unlikely because we vet new handlers so that they realize that this is a lifetime commitment. So when they retire from WDFW work, they are still our personal pets and part of our families. Typically the retirement window is 9-12 years old, usually 10 years old or so. The handler decides when the dogs is slowing down and when safety might be compromised. Nonetheless, the dogs continue to be part of the program and participating in educational programs; so they can go much longer than that.
Mishka – 16 years old – retired
Cash – 13 years old – recently passed away due to cancer
Savu-(Colters brother)9 years old – retired
Colter (Savu’s brother) 9 years old
Indy - (Spencer’s brother)7 years old
Spencer (Indy’s brother) 7 years old
Jax- 3 years old
Freida – 6 months
Alexa: How important are KBD in conservation of bears and cougars? What is the success rate of the KBD program?
Rich: I think the webinar clearly explained how important the dogs are. The kind of work they do is incredible and much too numerous to mention here so please watch the webinar for a full explanation. The make agency employees much more efficient and self-sufficient. They aren’t 100% successful at making captures, no canines are, but it’s well above 85%. One thing that most folks may not understand, is that the handler plays a large role in making the dogs successful, and vice versa of course. But when it comes to coexistence, brochures, websites, and kiosks don’t hold a candle to meeting the KBD’s. People absorb the educational messages we deliver in those face to face meetings so much better because they interact with these impressive dogs. And because we train KBDs be 100% human socialized, any new person they meet is immediately adopted as a pack member. So the dogs respond to them as much as they respond to the dogs.
On September 10th, WildFutures Research Assistant, Alexa Boesel, interviewed Dr. Quinton Martins.
WildFutures will be hosting Dr. Martins with Dr. Winston Vickers in a free webinar on September 20th. Register here.
Alexa: As I understand, you started studying large carnivores with Cape Leopards in South Africa. How did you get into working with cats?
Quinton: I started out working as a specialist guide in the photographic safari industry. I really had my first intimate experience working with leopards in 1993 while tracking these incredibly elusive and majestic cats on foot with highly skilled local Shangaan trackers. This is really what got my connected with leopards and has left an indelible impression on me. In these vast wilderness areas, we were fortunate enough to observe the natural behavior of wild leopards – watching them hunt, mate, play, as well as learn more about all the inter and intra-specific interactions they engage in. Of all the cats, leopards really stood out to me as my favorite cats. I worked in the safari industry till returning to the University of Cape Town in 2000 to read for a BSc degree in zoology. After completing my degree I launched a study on the mountain leopards found in the Cederberg Mountains. Here, leopard tracks would be seen, but these ghost-like creatures were seldom observed, and little was known about them, making it an exciting, yet tremendous challenge for me. Soon after beginning my study I learnt that leopards were regularly persecuted by farmers due to leopard-livestock conflict. This inspired me to start a non-profit, the Cape Leopard Trust which I ran for 11 years and ended up getting a PhD on these enigmatic mountain leopards.
Alexa: Over those years studying leopards were there any surprises? Something you hadn’t expected in your findings or your observations?
Quinton: Cape Leopards were proportionally quite similar to leopards elsewhere in Africa, yet significantly smaller from a mass perspective. I had always heard mountain leopards in SA were small, but couldn’t believe seeing healthy males in the Cape weighing 26-34kg, compared to male leopards in the bush weighing 65-75kg. We assumed this was due to genetic differentiation but when we ran studies, found that they would not be considered a subspecies. Although indications of genetic sub-populations existed, most of the difference in size was attributed to their diet predominantly made up of smaller mammals such as rock hyrax or dassie (a marmot-like creature) of about 3kg or small antelope less than 14kg.
I was amazed at how elusive the Cape leopards were. Because the areas I was studying were so remote, I hiked and trekked for 11 years to learn more about these creatures. It took me a year to see my first leopard in the wild. Not taking into account the almost 50 leopard captures I had, I only had the fortune of 8 wild sightings of Cape leopards in 11 years. For me, the difficulty of finding them was not disheartening but rather somewhat exciting. Knowing they were there, probably watching me many times, made the mountains feel special and mysterious. I loved knowing that they could survive nearly undetected.
One of the cool things about the project was having a tangible impact on limiting loss of leopards through depredation permits. Despite being a protected animal in the Cape (as with lions in Califoria), the biggest threat to leopards were having them killed through depredation permits. In the Cape, I worked hard to ensure existing guidelines for depredation permits were followed, as well as providing scientific input to see positive changes were made. Unlike California, the guidelines for the issuing of a depredation permit put the responsibility solely on the landowner, ensuring they take adequate precautions to protect their livestock. Failing that, a permit to kill a leopard for loss of livestock would not be issued. In my study area an average of 8 leopards were being killed a year when I started. Our work contributed to zero depredation permits being issued in my study area in 10 years. Consequently, the largest source of leopard mortality was due to intra-specific interactions and resulting infanticide all documented through our GPS collared cats.
Alexa: Obviously leopards and mountain lions are both from the cat family, but what similarities or differences have you found in your research with these two species that you didn’t expect?
Quinton: One of the things that I found intriguing was how timid mountain lions are compared to leopards. Put in a difficult situation, leopards are extremely aggressive and dangerous to people whereas mountain lions are far more likely to retreat than attack despite being very capable and large predators. One of the similarities between the two cats relates to habitat selection, or how important it is for them to have access to very specific types of habitat. They appear to have preferences within larger ecosystems for very specifics areas, such as areas with sufficient cover while avoiding open areas to a large degree. With our leopards, they selected very much for rugged, rough rocky terrain where there was some form of easy escape. They avoided open areas even if there was good prey availability and vegetation cover. For both species, this may partially be attributed to a link to the past where they shared their landscapes with bigger, more dangerous competing predators that preferred those open areas. Our leopards also had no trees to hoist their prey into to get away from larger predators. As a biologist, you get to a point where you understand what they prefer. When I trek, I have got to know where to put cameras and bait for traps based on these preferences.
Another cross- continental similarity I found has been related to trapping these cats. For our mountain leopards, I used un-baited, walk-through double door cages placed on a well-used path to capture our cats – the trap our be set to be like a tunnel they would walk through, setting the trap off once in the middle of the trap. When I came to the states, I was perplexed as to why this had never been tried with mountain lions. So, with the help of an engineer Neil Martin, I designed a new fully electronic walk-through cage using ultrasonic sensors that measured an animals height, to trigger the trap, and at the same time, avoid by-catch. It has worked wonderfully! However, going into dart a mountain lion versus a leopard once caught, is completely different. Leopards wait until you get close and then charge at you with all their might whereas mountain lions tend to want to get away from you. These are very different beasts!
Alexa: What have been your personal challenges studying these cats? What has been most rewarding?
Quinton: I suppose one of the challenges with studying mountain lions in the Bay Area is that we aren’t studying them in complete wilderness. That said! Studying leopards in wilderness, carrying 200+ pound cages miles into the mountains was physically exhausting and arduous. In California, a difficulty is the high degree of fragmentation. We can track our mountain lions using their GPS data, but often can’t get to them real time due to difficulties in obtaining access to the private land parcel they are on in time. One of our males now who has a range of ~250sq.miles covers 17,000 private land parcels. Females typically cover 8,000 land parcels. Trying to access these properties is a real challenge. In areas with high human density, where these mountain lions live, no matter how good your outreach is, it seems unlikely to be able to reach everyone, much less convince everyone to protect their livestock and pets. The result of that is there is a constant and almost unavoidable threat of these cats being taken out with legal depredation permits. One of the biggest challenges is balancing outreach while trying to affect changes in legislation and policy which would aid efforts in trying to protect animals in these areas. Policy changes and changes in the current legislation are essential if we are to see lions protected properly. This combined with public outreach and education will be the only way to positively contribute to the conservation of mountain lions.
What’s most rewarding? I suppose seeing tangible changes in our community through our efforts. Seeing members of our community becoming more aware of the importance of mountain lions in our environment. Seeing how more and more people as they become aware, see the need for us to coexist with wildlife. I love getting stopped in my truck (which now has prominent Living with Lions signage) and people asking, “how is P1 doing?” or “how are the kittens doing?” These are their lions! And the emotional, knee-jerk, and mostly senseless action of killing a depredating lion when conflict occurs, affects all of these people without them having a say it. I am pleased that more people are starting to realize the importance of the ripple effects our perturbations cause in these delicate ecosystems.
Alexa: What would you tell people when they ask what they can do to conserve and protect mountain lions?
Quinton: First, I would tell people it’s very important to know that the killing and removal of any “normal” and healthy mountain lion makes no sense and is of no benefit to them or the people living in that cat’s range. Furthermore, it is quite plausible to say this removal will likely negatively impact them and their environment. If people want to conserve these animals, they need to understand why they are doing it. It doesn’t matter if the mountain lion population is threatened or not, but rather that removing them doesn’t do any good because removals are not solving the underlying issues which will simply continue unless addressed properly. If left to their own devices, conserving lions should not lead to overpopulation of these cats who, given the opportunity, self-regulate their populations to a large degree in areas where they are the top predator. Landowners need to take responsibility for looking after their pets or livestock. Our research findings show that all our collared cats kill pets and livestock. It’s not abnormal or aberrant behavior. Removing one of these cats won’t change the fact that the next mountain lion replacing the one killed will do the same thing given the opportunity of preying on unprotected domesticated animals. The only thing that will change lion behavior is ensuring that pets and livestock are unavailable to mountain lions, forcing them to focus on their primary prey (which in our area of California is deer).
Depending on where you live and whether you are a commercial stock farmer or keep a few animals as a non-commercial enterprise, the strategy for protecting livestock differs. For landowners with pets or a dozen or so livestock or less, it is easiest and most effective keeping your animals inside at night, in a barn or in your home. Don’t let your animals out early in the morning or in the evening near a creek or somewhere else that mountain lions tend to travel. Alternate the use of some deterrent devices like having a radio on, or a good sized donkey or Llama present. If you have a big herd of livestock, the solutions are more complex and differ depending on the breed of livestock and the landscape you are farming in. Livestock guardian dogs may very well be the best solution in these cases. Our biggest concerns in the southern part of our Bay Area study are not commercial livestock farmers though, rather landowners with pet cats or a handful of “hobby” or pet goats or sheep – most of these landowners have structures which could be used or easily modified to be used to house their animals in a predator-free environment. They need to do this, and if they do not and they lose an animal to a predator, there should be no recourse to have the offending animal killed.
Alexa: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?
Quinton: Mountain lions are a great ambassador species for habitat conservation because they are so far ranging and their needs to a large degree require the presence of a functioning ecosystem. Thus, by protecting mountain lions, we are inadvertently working towards broad habitat conservation. I think that mountain lions are a great symbol to connect people to nature. Like in the Cederberg with leopards, they represent a wildness that we are still fortunate to have. With mountain lions it is great to know that statistically they are known to be an insignificant threat to humans and thus are relatively easy to coexist with as long as we protect our pets and livestock. I hope that people understand that supporting the kind of research and work that we are doing is kind of like investing in a form of Life Insurance. Our lives depend on the protection of our natural resources, without which, the degradation of our planet will be hastened, and in 30 or 50 years’ time we will be fighting for clean air and water just to survive.
On September 3rd, WildFutures Research Assistant, Alexa Boesel, interviewed Dr. Winston Vickers.
WildFutures will be hosting Dr. Winston Vickers and Dr. Quinton Martins in a free webinar on September 20th. Register here.
Alexa: You have been studying mountain lions in California for a very long time. What inspired you to first start working with them?
Winston: I started in 2002 when I went back to UC Davis to get a Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine degree, focusing on wildlife population health and ecology, and anticipated doing my thesis in mountain lion health. I was spurred by an interest in large cats and carnivores and had assisted in some research in snow leopards, which I considered studying longer term. My wife and I had assisted an Earthwatch-funded snow leopard research project in Nepal with two PhD students. They studied non-invasively with cameras and tracking, particularly looking at predator-prey dynamics. However when I began my studies, mountain lions were the most locally available large cat in California (and North America for that matter) and UC Davis had an ongoing study in mountain lions, and thus they became the focus of my work.
I had started veterinary medicine with an interest in wildlife, with a preceptorship at the Oklahoma Zoo and then worked in a mixed animal hospital in rural North Arkansas. Then, I moved to California where I worked at a small animal and exotic pet hospital, occasionally working with wildlife.
Alexa: As a veterinarian, what are the most common diseases you see facing wild felids? And mountain lions specifically?
Winston: Being predators, mountain lions face a lot of diseases, as well as toxins, that their prey are exposed to. One example is Salmonella, which one lion in our study area died of. Another died of Valley Fever, or coccidioidomycosis, which humans can get in dry arid ecosystems. Our collaborators at Colorado State also study Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, and other lentiviruses in domestic cats, wild bobcats, and mountain lions. Each of those species has their own strains of FIV, but our collaborators at Colorado State have detected a bobcat strain in mountain lions with unknown implications for the health of infected mountain lions.
We have seen Feline Leukhemia virus (FelV) in a mountain lion which may have contributed to its death. We have also documented antibodies to plague in the mountain lion population, meaning the animals had been exposed to that disease agent. None of our study animals have died of that disease to our knowledge, but that has occurred in other areas of the west. That is the same organism that infects humans occasionally in the western US and can be fatal. We presume mountain lions are usually exposed to this bacterial infection via rodents or other predators such as coyotes that mountain lions eat.
To date, we have not documented any major population effects from any particular disease, or any epidemics, but we are always watching for it. In one portion of our study area, we had a cluster of deaths from an unknown cause, but we suspected were due to an infectious agent of some kind, but we were unable to find a source.
Most deaths that we see are from car strikes, depredation permits and poaching. We certainly consider these in epidemiology studies. They provide an un-“natural” source of death, adding undue pressures to the populations that we study. Many of our populations are separated by highways, reducing gene flow, so genetic inbreeding and the potential for inbreeding depression and reduced reproduction also worry us a lot.
Alexa: What have been your personal challenges studying mountain lions? What has been most rewarding?
Winston: My personal challenges are primarily the difficulties of the actual work, and of funding the work. The work is physically challenging. In order to capture a mountain lion in cage traps which is our primary method, we do a lot of hiking beforehand to find out via tracking and trail cameras where lion movement is occurring. We bring in road killed deer as bait, sometimes carrying them long distances, and also carry in traps. We primarily capture at night, drive for many hours, and miss a fair amount of sleep. Getting funding is also challenging. The longest grants for projects are usually no more than 2-3 years, meaning that we are always on the search for more. Our equipment and time spent are expensive, with trucks, tracking collars, cameras, biologist salaries, etc., so grant money often doesn’t go as far as we would like.
However, the cumulative effects of our research has been immensely rewarding. Over the years, the research that we produced has affected public policy, making a difference for wildlife. We didn’t know much when we first started researching mountain lions. We were unsure there was anything wrong. One of the first things we found, is that there were many causes of premature death. Due to our research and research like it, we have made strides to reduce those premature deaths, documenting roadkill and depredation kill hot spots, increasing fencing along roadsides, reducing roadkill (including deer) which helps decrease overall car damage and money spent on repairs and increases human safety. We have documented the negative impacts of roads on mountain lion ecology, and therefore are making strides to reduce barrier effect of roads and genetic isolation.
To reduce deaths due to depredation permits, we have started to do a lot of work to educate owners of small livestock like goats, especially those who have just a few animals and who have the best potential for reducing the risks by bringing their animals into enclosures at night. Working with the Mountain Lion Foundation, 4H clubs, and the UC Agricultural Extension program we are trying to educate people who live in mountain lion habitat on ways to reduce risks to their animals from mountain lions and other predators. The key is proper husbandry, which is important for kids to learn, thus the focus on working with 4-H.
Alexa: What do you think is needed to coexist with these large carnivores if they are to have a future in the Bay Area?
Winston: The Bay Area and Southern California have a lot in common in that they are highly barriered areas with miles of roads and housing developments and a lot of mix between rural and urban areas. In areas like Sonoma there are a lot of owners of small livestock that when not properly protected can be killed by mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats, That can then result in the wild animal being killed.
A big part of the solution is educating people, and getting them to think about wildlife in their life. When people begin to consider wildlife, it drives public will, which then forces public policy and eventually, regulates individual behavior as it relates to wildlife. Essentially its an ask, to vote for wildlife, and elevate wildlife’s overall status in the ladder of importance, including politically.
Another important aspect of our work is helping people appreciate the vital role that large carnivores play in the ecosystem. If they were allowed to disappear, it would change the landscape irrevocably, in a way that humans probably wouldn’t like.
Alexa: Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?
Winston: I will mention that some of my work is with the Institute for Wildlife Studies in northeastern California in a much more rural area, which provides an opportunity for comparison between the two types of habitats. In northeastern California, with less roads and more livestock, the primary cause of death we are seeing is from depredation permits.
As you can imagine, in populations far from any humans that are not hunted for sport, the primary reason for death would likely be intraspecific strife, or lions killing lions in competition for territory or mates. Interestingly, in the Santa Monica Mountains in southern California, in an area where there are certainly also mortalities from depredation permits and car strikes, the National Park Service researchers there have also documented intraspecific strife (mountain lions killing other mountain lions) as a significant source of mortality. The reasons for this are unclear.
I think work like Quinton’s and mine allows us to see the scope of challenges that mountain lions living alongside humans are facing, and try to make some difference in their chances of long term persistence on the landscape that we humans are constantly altering.
How did you get into working with pumas?
I get this question all the time, and its because people don't really understand the field of wildlife biology. Yes, the rare person chooses to devote their life to a species and attends graduate school, studying the species they want, then get their first job studying that same animal, and then somehow land a career position that allows them to do exactly the research they dreamed about as a teenager. Sure, that happens sometimes. But, more often, people entering the field are presented with opportunities and some you take and others you don't. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to study mountain lions in graduate school, and on several projects beforehand as a technician/biologist, but only after I failed to find a professor that would allow me to study fishers or black bears, which were my initial choice, or even ringtails or gray foxes, which I also wanted to pursue. Alas, it’s difficult to complain in retrospect--mountain lions are amazing.
Why do you continue to study mountain lions after so long, when you could have bounced to other species?
My short, waiting-in-line-at-the-grocery-store answer is this: Because mountain lions capture the imagination. They flare passion in people, whether they are anti-mountain lion deer hunters or livestock owners, or pro-mountain lion city slickers. Passion breeds opportunity, opportunity to pull people into discussion. And mountain lions, I think, are among the best animals to explore creative conservation strategies--they actually live in between us, like ghosts--they are a large carnivore in our midst. And last, I stick with mountain lions because it’s hard--hard keeps me interested.
Can you tell us about what you are working on with respect to pumas?
I'm a bit all over the place. I study competition with wolves and bears--how these species influence the lives of mountain lions. I study foraging--what mountain lions eat and how often, and how individuals of different ages and sex exhibit different diets. I study some of the positive roles mountain lions play in natural systems--through providing carrion to diverse scavengers, through contributing to resource heterogeneity in terms of soil nutrients and such. I study social behaviors and spatial organization, and hope to expand my work to begin to understand how social behaviors might be influenced by variation in mountain lion density, prey type and density, and hunting pressure. And I study human-mountain lion conflict and coexistence--I'd like to contribute work to support the peaceful coexistence of us and them across their range.
How is the relative status of the population of pumas in your study area?
In the Tetons of Wyoming, they've been in decline for some time and our latest research has been aimed at determining why. I don't want to spoil our findings before they are released, but it seems a combination of human hunting, reintroduced wolves, and declining elk in our system, and no doubt other complexities as well.
In Patagonia near Torres del Paine, I'm not sure. Evidence suggests that overall in southern Patagonia, pumas are increasing. This is due to failing wool markets, the closure of large sheep farms, which has relaxed pressure on both native prey for pumas (guanacos) and the pumas themselves. Guanacos and mountain lions are increasing in number and expanding their range. It’s a bit like the story of western North America 70 years ago--once we stopped killing them relentlessly, they launched an amazing comeback from their remote mountain holds.
What is your guess about the major threats to the species in your study area?
"Threat" is a loaded word, and I want to be careful how I use it. North of Mexico, I think the greatest threat is habitat conversion and fragmentation. Once habitat is turned into condos or highways split up big chunks of land into smaller, disconnected parcels, its land completely lost to mountain lions forever. That's a real threat. Human hunting, as currently managed in the west, is not a threat to the long-term persistence of mountain lions, and in general, not a threat to the number of mountain lions in western North America. Hunting, however, is the greatest threat to the integrity of mountain lion populations. What I mean here is that hunting impacts natural social structures, natural variation in age structures, natural dispersal patterns influencing immigration and emigration, and other subtle workings of mountain lion populations.
South of the US, there is much less known about how mountain lions are faring. The collective we believe that poaching and livestock-conflict are perhaps greater threats to mountain lion populations, or at least equal threats, to habitat loss and fragmentation across Latin and South America.
What is your greatest challenge working with these animals?
The greatest current challenge is that mountain lion management and conservation has become polarized--its an "us" versus "them" scenario. Unless people begin to listen to each other, and respect each other, we're stuck in stalemate, and worse in a system in which people in power are making decisions to spite those they consider their opposition. Sounds a bit like our larger political systems! Biologists, like myself, are often in the middle--the various factions all believe biologists should stand with them and only them, challenging each of us to try to maintain our own integrity while contributing to the discussion.
The other challenge is funding. Ironically, mountain lion research is difficult to fund. They are not endangered except in Florida, so don't qualify for many pots of money. And they are difficult to fund through the core-science programs, because they turn up small sample sizes that make creative mathematics difficult to apply to them. Scientists would rather fund work that will yield larger samples (more animals) so that their statistical analyses are more powerful and insightful. That leaves state agency funds, small grants, and private money. States vary in their commitment to funding mountain lion research--Colorado, for example, has invested very large sums of money into mountain lion research over the last 10-15 years, whereas Wyoming has not. Private money is wonderful, in that it generally allows researchers great freedom to pursue their desires, but it’s tough to secure. Biologists are not trained as fundraisers, and at least speaking for myself, I am really uncomfortable asking others for money (but clearly need to improve in this department)
What has been most meaningful about your work with these large cats?
My most meaningful moments are those in which I feel like I've truly discovered something new about mountain lions, the moments I truly felt my work aided their conservation, the moments I truly felt I aided in the conversion of a mountain lion hater into someone willing to coexist with them, and of course, the many personal encounters in which they enriched my life. I've been lucky, I think. I feel like we are discovering new aspects about mountain lions all the time, and I feel that my work has helped bring an awareness of the species to more people, and hopefully helped them understand mountain lions just a little bit more. And a personal level, I've been very lucky and privileged to do the work I've done.
What can people in the U.S do to contribute to advancing the conservation of Pumas?
Talk to people with opposing views. Don't attack them--try to understand their perspectives. Treat them with the respect you feel you yourself deserve. We are all people and we all deserve equal say on how we manage and coexist with mountain lions. This is key.
Second, listen to other people, especially those with opposing views. Really listen--postpone defensive maneuvers and really try to understand their perspective. We are all people and we all deserve equal say on how we manage and coexist with mountain lions. This is key.
Fund mountain lion research, education, and outreach--this is how work gets done.
Any other comments about your work or pumas that you would like people to know?
Give mountain lions a chance. They'll surprise you. They continue to surprise me.
Thank you for the opportunity to share and do the work I do.
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/