SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — An increase in mountain lion attacks on pets and livestock in California is mirrored by requests for permits to kill mountain lions, as more people move into their territory.
Of the mountain lions killed with permits and necropsied in 2015 (the most recent year available) 52 percent had domestic animals in their stomach contents, up from 41 percent 2014, according to a report from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
At the same time, deer remains were found in just six percent of the mountain lions necropsied in 2014, and just five percent in 2015.
Meanwhile, the number of permit requests to kill mountain lions is also rising, especially in far Northern California and on the Central Coast. 256 permits were issued in 2015 (up from 216 in 2014), the most since 2004. 107 lions were killed with a permit in 2015 (up from 89 killed in 2014), the most since 2007.
“We think the population is stable at about 6,000 animals spread fairly evenly across the state,” said Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. “They can live in almost any habitat. There could be lions right here in this park. There aren’t but there could be.”
With more humans moving into what has been the mountain lion’s natural habitat, pets and livestock are increasingly threatened. “A lion will make a circle and come back in a year and eat a deer, and then come back in two more years later and there’s a house there!” said Hughan. “So, they’ll look around and if there’s a llama, a goat or an alpaca, it may be just a target of opportunity.”
Recently in the hills above San Jose, lion tracker Dan Tichenor was helping UC Santa Cruz researchers find two lions who had been tagged.
The researchers don’t want to kill these lions. They just want to replace the batteries in their GPS collars so they can continue to track and study them.
The dogs he uses spotted them, but the lions got away. “Mostly, you only see a glimpse of them, said Tichenor. “They see you and they run, that is the behavior you want, and that’s what most of them do. People rarely see them because they are very good at staying hidden.”
Even though the number of depredation permit requests is up, Fish and Wildlife says three times as many lions are killed annually on the highway, hit by cars.
While mountain lions are not neither threatened nor endangered in California, they are legally classified as “specially protected species.”
Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, with only 16 verified attacks on humans in the state since 1890. The last attack was in Humboldt County in 2007.