According to the latest monitoring campaigns carried out in the mountains of California, the current population of cougars (Puma concolor) is much smaller than expected. In fact, experts estimate that there are fewer than 4,500 cougars left in the country, several thousand fewer than previously thought, and many of them are close to being adults. reproductive decline, therefore, they can no longer carry pregnancies or care for young children.
Population senescence is an important issue for this species, which also has to withstand the loss of its territory and the disappearance of some prey. However, the sample counts were done by various state and university experts who chose to do so integrate data coming from the GPS collar with genetic information extracted from different stool samples which were found during various expeditions. This allowed them to assess the density and size of each population, even in some of the most isolated areas of California, such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Mojave Desert, and arid Southern California.
According to these findings, the largest cougar populations are found in the forests of Humboldt and Mendocino counties in northwestern California, while the smallest populations are found in the desert east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Inyo County. “The Central Valley and parts of the Mojave Desert don’t have any mountain lions,” he said Justin Dellinger, a biologist specializing in large carnivores and a leader in The California Lion Project.
Dellinger also specified that the report on this monitoring will soon be part of a scientific article awaiting approval by journals. “However, it is very important that we have already identified where the species is missing so that we can focus our future efforts on conserving the species only where it occurs.”
The expert also stated that the group he belongs to spent approx $2.45 million over seven years of tracking produce three different population estimates. The first, less restrictive estimate showed that there were 4,511 cougars living in California. Two other messages indicate this the correct number is approximately 3,200: just over half the bombs previously estimated (around 6,000).
Although 7 years is a long time and hundreds of experts have contributed to the puma census, all the biologists involved in this project share a common theory. Currently, the large predators of California are experiencing a moment of extreme difficulty and the main culprit of their decline is man. In recent years, too many traffic accidents have confirmed how much of a threat our species is to cougars, which are not currently on the list of endangered species, but suffer greatly from the proximity of humans.
In addition to accidents, California cougars fall victim to fires and rat poison used by local residents to keep foxes out of farms. Poaching and the dangers posed by inbreeding, a consequence of the lack of good breeders, also risk leading future generations into an evolutionary abyss.
Fortunately, State Fish and Game Commission allowed six areas of California, from Santa Cruz counties to those on the US-Mexico border, to include cougars on a list of species not recognized by the federal government that enjoy special protection based on “candidate status.” This choice came in response to an online petition they co-sponsored Center for Biological Diversity and the non-profit Mountain Lion Foundationwhich, together with its members, cares for some of the hardy populations of the Sierra Nevada.
Scientists don’t know if this status and their census will actually help cougars withstand the various ecological challenges facing their future, but it is also true that this is the first time that the state of California seems to have a deep interest in their protection. , even beyond the borders of protected natural areas. With the disappearance of the cougar, California risks losing one of its historical symbols, as well as changing its ecosystem forever.