Southern California wildfires are pushing the region’s mountain lion population into smaller hunting grounds and pushing them toward run-ins with the human world, a joint study between UCLA and the National Park Service found.
The study found that mountain lions are more likely to have dangerous or fatal encounters after fires destroy their habitat.
For some, rival mountain lions become more at odds with each other as they seek new territory. Others flee the flames only to run up against man-made infrastructure. In some cases, those journeys end fatally for the big cats.
The National Park Service looked specifically at the aftermath of the 2018 Woolsey fire, which burned nearly 100,000 acres. reported.
Investigators discovered that P-61, a mountain lion, was struck and killed by a vehicle while attempting to cross the 405 Freeway. A mountain lion is returning to its habitat after encountering a rival mountain lion in another area.
The study said it was the first record of a cougar being tracked with a collar device crossing a major highway before dying.
Researchers have found that forest fires change the way mountain lions hunt for prey.
Animals rely on the element of surprise to catch their prey but find it difficult to conceal themselves in areas where vegetation has been burned. Because they often can’t camouflage themselves, the study found that mountain lions are more visible during the day. Animals had to hunt while the sun was still up to catch prey, unusual for night animals.
Rachel Blakey, lead author of the study, predicted that the small mountain lion population in the Golden State would deal with similar problems to their counterparts in the Southern California region.
Although mountain lions are forced into more interactions with humans, the researchers emphasize that they are still very fearful of humans. Blakey says they do everything they can to avoid human contact.
“They’d rather run across a 10-lane freeway than share the space with humans,” Blakey said. “They are taking risks in all directions except meeting with us.”
Blakey admits that people can be scared of a mountain lion, but knowing how scared they are of humans can ease some nerves.
A new wildlife crossing is being built on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, Los Angeles County to help animals cross the dangerous road.
Touted to be the world’s largest wildlife crossing, the bridge is 200 feet long and spans 10 lanes of a freeway.
Blakey believes the 101 Freeway is a link between many species’ habitats and the crossing is positive for many animals.
Before the 2018 Woolsey Fire, Blakey said, researchers found that mountain lions crossed the 101 Freeway about once every two years, but data showed that 15 months after the fire, mountain lions were crossing the highway about once every four months. .
“I think the wildlife crossing is really exciting,” Blakey said. “This will be a truly intelligent and scientifically informed wildlife crossing that will help multiple species.”