Referred to by Native Americans as “Ghostwalkers,” mountain lions are declining in numbers in Orange County—multiple threats are obliterating their habitat.
The Southern California Mountain Lion Project observes cougars in their natural habitat in order to better understand their migratory patterns and diseases infecting the population by attaching a radio collar to the cougar. The collar, using technology known as radiotelemetry, allows scientists to follow a cougar’s moves via GPS for a four- to six-month period.
See below for safety tips on living peacefully with mountain lions.
“Our studies show that the mountain lion population in Orange County is the least diverse population,” said project volunteer Donna Krucki. The Southern California Mountain Lion Project is based at the UC Davis veterinary medicine school.
Krucki spoke at the Rancho Mission Viejo Reserve as part of an educational program Wednesday evening.
Rodenticide, a pest control chemical intended to eliminate small rodents, has also been linked to the decreased cougar population, said the UC Davis Wildlife Heath Center website. Two Southern California lions have died from exposure to this chemical via ingestion of prey during the study.
“Rodenticides have a direct correlation with the amount of wildlife," Krucki said. "It’s not just mountain lions that are being affected. Both cats that have died in this study had large amounts of rodenticide in their livers.”
Cougars are also threatened with loss of habitat through development and wildfires. Populations of mountain lions in Orange County are so small that scientists worry about inbreeding, which can damage the species even further.
“Our mountain range is an island of wilderness,” said Krucki. “It is surrounded by development, and genetics has become a big concern.”
Some 15 to 20 cougars exist in the Santa Ana Mountain range, based on the study, which includes Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties.
The Southern California Mountain Lion Project hopes to create “wildlife corridors,” land designated for animals to move safely throughout developed areas including underneath busy streets, in order to create successful population dispersal.
“I hope through conservation and education, we will always have ‘Ghostwalker’ in the Santa Ana Mountains,” said Krucki.
- Do not hike, bike, or jog alone.
- Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active -- dawn, dusk and at night.
- Keep a close watch on small children.
- Do not approach a mountain lion.
- If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
- If attacked, fight back.
- If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.