4,500 Cougars Call California Home, New, More Accurate Study Concludes

Researchers have developed a more accurate estimate of the number of cougars (Puma concolor) who share California with more that 39 millions people. The new best estimate is that 4,500 cougars can be found roaming close to us.

photo of a cougar near a log
Cougars are the largest cat in California. Almost all of the state is potential home land for the cats. But increasing contact with people has not proven good for the cats. Photo by Nicky Pe on Pexels.com

According to CapRadio the research is brand new and likely won’ be published for about a year. It is the product of work done by Justin Dellinger. Dellinger is a wildlife biologist and specialist in wolves and cougars for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The new number replaces an old estimate of up to 6,000 resident cats. That number dated to the 1980’s and technology has advanced greatly since then. The 4,500 cougars can be found virtually everywhere in the state.

An artist’s rendering of the 101 Freeway crossing near Liberty Canyon. The overcrossing should help all wildlife avoid traffic on the freeway and prevent or seriously reduce inbreeding.

Dellinger told the radio station:

“Newer technology allows his team to both analyze mountain lion scat collected from their home range and follow their movements with tracking collars has helped.

“They didn’t have genetic capabilities [and] collars were pretty much in their infancy in that time,” Dellinger said of the limitations behind the decades-old estimate. “The technology is a lot different now.”   

But even with that technology at hand, he said mountain lions are fairly secretive and have large home ranges, making them a hard species to follow. “

aerial photography of concrete road
Freeways are dangerous places for both people and animals. Photo by mhtoori .com on Pexels.com

The old days saw “back of the napkin estimates” in which the estimated size of the potential mountain lion range in the state was divided by a rough estimate of the size of an adult mountain lion’s range.

Although 4500 cougars may seem a hefty number California’s biggest cats face a number of threats from humans. The biggest is traffic collisions which kill numerous cougars annually. CalTrans, the state’s traffic and highway agency, now works to create under and overpass options into roadwork. Projects such as Liberty Canyon are also being funded. That project will help with the traffic problems and also inbreeding. Los Angeles area cougars number about 20 in the Santa Monica Mountains. They are virtually trapped by freeways and inbreeding is a serious issue. Finally areas of high mortality have been identified and that will focus attention on remedies.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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