Mountain lion encounters can occur when you least expect them. While you wouldn't think of running into a lion in the Central Valley, they are here. Elusive and shy, lions instinctively stick to areas that allow them to remain undetected, where they feel safe and where they're least likely to encounter humans.
The human population is rapidly growing and because there are more people encroaching on good lion habitat, people think they're seeing more lions. What's actually likely happening is that more and more green space buffer areas for habitat where lions had a safe zone are disappearing due to agricultural, rural and urban development.
Loss of habitat is the biggest challenge for mountain lion survival today. The territory range for mountain lions can vary from 10 square miles to up to 350 square miles, depending on the available habitat, whether there are connecting wildlife corridors and how it all interfaces with human development. Male lions voraciously defend and mark their own territories and will fight to the death to keep an established domain. Female lions tend to have overlapping territories and one male lion may have territory that overlaps with several females, breeding with each of them.
The bottom line is that there are lions in the Central Valley. Are they able to establish territory? Not in areas where humans have taken over former habitat and disrupted wildlife travel corridors. But in an area like the Cosumnes River Preserve, a large, protected area that maintains wildlife habitat, it is possible. Likely? We don't know. Access to the lower Preserve area where our camera study is taking place is difficult and dangerous.
But mountain lions do make it here. There's food and good cover to remain undetected. What's missing? A mate. And that may be the driving force behind whether a mountain lion stays or goes once they've visited the Preserve.
Our camera team hopes to capture a mountain lion on camera this season, to help document more information about mountain lions and how and why they undertake the perilous journey to the Central Valley.
--- The Bureau of Land Management initiated a mountain lion study on the Cosumnes River Preserve in collaboration with the California Department Fish and Wildlife in 2014. Currently, the study is being carried out by an all-volunteer crew of dedicated individuals who receive support and oversight from the Bureau of Land Management. The Sacramento Zoo has awarded a grant to the Mountain Lion Foundation which has allowed the Foundation to purchase and loan ten trail cameras to the Preserve to help carry out this study. The goal is to find and document a mountain lion on the Cosumnes River Preserve.