Category: Bay Area

Good news: Mountain lions are afraid of you, too

More on our puma fearing people paper from Peter Fimrite at the SF Chronicle and Paul Rogers at the San Jose Mercury news.

“People allude to this idea all the time — that mountain lions are more afraid of us than we are of them. But science has never shown that before,” said Chris Wilmers, an associate professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz who worked on the study. “When people go out hiking, some have a fear that mountain lions are going to attack them. But it turns out that mountain lions are quite afraid of people.”

The recordings that were played in the lion experiment were snippets of shows of TV and talk radio personalities, including liberal Rachel Maddow and conservative Rush Limbaugh.

“We used them because they were high-quality recordings,” Smith said. “But the pumas showed no partisanship. They all ran away from everyone.”

Our work was also featured in National Geographic, the New Scientist, Popular Science, and Newsweek.

 

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Conservationists of the Year for 2014

The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County Board of Trustees named Dr. Jodi McGraw and Dr. Chris Wilmers Conservationists of the Year at an event on Sunday, October 5. The award was in recognition of their work in setting the priorities of the Land Trust and in educating the public about the natural resources that make Santa Cruz County special.

Read the full story here.

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Scientists highlight global importance of meat-eating mammals

Coverage in the Sentinel about our carnivore paper in Science today.

Two UC Santa Cruz ecologists are among the authors of a global review of large carnivore populations published Jan. 10 in the journal Science. The international group of scientists warns that declines in these key species have broad, and often surprising, effects on ecosystems that extend to humans.

Read the full story here.

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Mountain lion who roamed downtown Santa Cruz killed on Highway 17

Santa Cruz’ famous downtown mountain lion was struck and killed while crossing Highway 17 early Thursday morning near Vine Hill Road.

The lion’s body was given to UC Santa Cruz researchers, who helped capture the wayward puma in June and fitted it with a tracking collar. The juvenile male crossed Highway 17 several times in the months since its downtown excursion.

“He may have just been exploring,” said Yiwei Wang, a UCSC doctoral candidate who works with the Santa Cruz Puma Project. “He was still pretty young.”

Read the full account here in the San Jose Mercury News

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Science on the SPOT: Chasing Pumas

Great NPR video documentary on our mountain lion – habitat fragmentation study

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Childhood curiosity led to puma project

SF Chronicle profile piece. The image above is a flyer for a movie inspired by the article which my graduate students will be producing.

Professor Chris Wilmers waggled the head of the fake deer in the equipment room of his UC Santa Cruz laboratory to demonstrate how alluring the contraption could be to a hungry cougar.

The purpose of the bobblehead deer – stored between a table covered with radio collars and a refrigerator full of cougar skulls, teeth, hair and scat samples – is to provoke mountain lion attacks.

Read on here.  Or if the link doesn’t work, try the pdf (SF Chronicle Profile Aug 12 2013).

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Urban drifter: Mountain lion visits Santa Cruz

It was a crazy day.  A mountain lion made its way into downtown Santa Cruz, and we got a call from the police to come help them and the CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife anesthetize the cat and move it to safety.  Lots of coverage on this one.  Read about it in the Sentinel (with photos here), Pajaronian, Fox News, NBC News or our blog post about it on SantaCruzPumas.

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Top Cats: How Pumas and Other Apex Predators’ Populations Affect The Big Biodiversity Picture

Here’s a great article by Liza Gross in KQED’s Quest.  It ties our recent puma work nicely together with other work on predator effects on ecosystem function.

These “top down” trophic cascades, which the ecologists dubbed “trophic downgrading,” have been documented from the poles to the equators and every major biome in between, making the loss of top predators, they wrote, “arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world.” Earth has weathered five mass extinctions but never before at the hands of one species—human beings. And we humans seem hell bent on clearing the Earth of larger bodied apex predators.

I considered all this as I read a new paper from wildlife ecologist Chris Wilmer’s lab (published last week in PLOS ONE) that looks at how human development affects pumas. Like most large carnivores, pumas need vast territories to hunt, find mates and raise young. Pumas living in the San Francisco Bay Area have no such luck. Wilmers, an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of California-Santa Cruz, has been studying the effects of habitat fragmentation on the behavior, ecology and even the physiology of pumas around the Santa Cruz Mountains. He develops cutting-edge GPS collars to track both the location and behavior of his animals.

Fragmented landscapes often pave the way to extinction for wide-ranging large carnivores like pumas, with cascading effects. Freed from the threat of top predators, smaller carnivores like foxes increase in number, driving declines in birds and small mammals. But habitat fragmentation can produce effects similar to extinction because large predators tend to avoid small fragmented parcels. Given the heterogeneous patterns of human developments—with houses and other structures interspersed among natural areas—predicting how animals might respond, and with what consequences, presents a serious challenge.

Read the full article here.

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Cougars in the mood stay far from humans

From the San Francisco Chronicle, a nice article on our recent PLOS ONE publication.

 Mountain lions, the most fearsome predators in California, lurk closer to suburbia when they are stalking prey or searching out new territory, but the cagey cats steer clear of humans when they are in the mood for romance, according to a UC Santa Cruz study.

If you can’t view the full article on the Chronicle article, here is a pdf version (page 1 , page 2).

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Mountain lion just miles from downtown San Jose photographed by automatic camera

Sometimes I am amazed at how easily mountain lions make it into the news!  Here’s a story in the San Jose Merc about a lion caught on camera at UC’s Blue Oak Reserve in the Hamilton range…

The lion photographed weighs more than 100 pounds. Wilmers said it is a male from 4- to 10-years-old, and it looks healthy. That it wandered into photo range on the outskirts of America’s 10th largest city was bound to happen sooner or later, he said.

“It’s not a surprise to me. There is a lot of great open space there,” Wilmers said. “If anything, it is a testament to the fact that people have been able to protect large open spaces that animals like mountain lions need to be healthy.”

View the full article here.

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