Friday, April 13, 2007

Group wants to educate public about Calif. mountain lions

The Press-Enterprise
10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, April 10, 2007

MURRIETA - When a young mountain lion left its mother west of Murrieta to find its own home, he roamed to Interstate 5 near San Onofre. A week later, scientists tracked the lion, through a global positioning satellite collar, as it tried to cross I-15 near Temecula.

It spent four nights peering down onto I-15 before heading north to land near the junction of highways 241 and 91, said Mike Puzzo, researcher at the Wildlife Health Center.

The young lion's story was told at the Murrieta Public Library by the researchers who tracked it to illustrate the lives of mountain lions and how encroaching development is reshaping their actions.

The Tuesday night presentation mirrored those held by Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve staff members to teach those who live next to the wildlife area.

"We share a very permeable boundary," said reserve director Carole Bell. "These animals move and back forth freely between cities and the reserve."

The presentation was not intended to frighten residents but to inform them about the animals that live in their vicinity and what they can do to remain safe.

Puzzo is part of a group that began studying mountain lions in the Anza-Borrego area in 2001. Four years later, the group began tracking five mountain lions on the reserve. The studies help scientists determine where important wildlife corridors are.

"This leads to conservation issues," he said. "They are a great species to research because mountain lions need a huge area to live and travel from fragmented area to another by using these corridors."

On Tuesday, Puzzo showed maps in a slide show presentation displaying where the lions had traveled. The crowd of about 30 people gasped in amazement as the colored dots showing the big cats splattered across Southern California from the desert up to Highway 91.

Puzzo said it's important to educate residents because there is a misconception that mountain lions are attacking people at a large rate. In fact, since 1890 there have been 16 confirmed attacks and six fatalities in the state, Puzzo said.

Puzzo emphasized that when a hiker comes across a mountain lion, he or she should act "big and bold" and never run away. The mountain lion research showed that in many cases hikers were within 100 feet of mountain lions on numerous occasions and nothing happened.

"They would much rather run away and be done with you," Puzzo said.

The researchers stressed the importance of keeping animals locked up so the state can stop issuing permits to kill wildlife.

Of the 48 mountain lions collared by the group, a handful died.

Some have been killed trying to cross freeways. One was killed in a large San Diego fire.

The reserve lost its first collared lion when someone illegally shot it on an undeveloped parcel of land near the reserve.

"My hope is that some of you go home tonight and tell people what you have learned so people can learn about the wildlife in our area," Bell said.

Reach Rocky Salmon at 951-375-3739 or PE_News_Local_H_lion11.3fccc69.html

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