A wildlife watcher, a wildlife agency, and a mountain lion on the eastern range

By Paige Munson, Science and Policy Coordinator

Sharing a home with mountain lions

Colin Croft is a lifelong Nebraskan, naturalist, wildlife watcher, and teacher of ethics and philosophy at his community college. Ten years ago, he realized he was sharing his property with mountain lions. In 2014, Colin placed camera traps near his home in the Wildcat Hills. He was familiar with the wildlife in his area but was shocked to find images of a mountain lion on the camera. He kept his trail cameras active and continued to discover more about the hidden life of his community lions that live on what’s considered the eastern range of breeding lion populations in the United States.

Map of range of mountain lion population in the United States
The range of breeding mountain lion populations in the United States.

Colin was thrilled to discover an animal that, most people assumed, no longer existed in Nebraska. His curiosity about the carnivore he’d seen on his camera prompted him to learn more about the cat, and inadvertently, about wildlife management in a state not known for lions.

Mountain lion management and the need for wildlife agency reform

“Mountain lions, to me, really opened up the world of wildlife management, “ said Colin. “When I was a young guy, I did a little bit of hunting, and a lot more fishing. I was familiar with our state parks and our state agency, but I never really thought about their role and what they did. It was through mountain lions that I understood the agency’s view on wildlife. I had never questioned it before. But there is this notion that the agency needs to focus on consumptive users, mainly the hook and bullet crowd, but also park users. But if you’re wanting to enjoy wild places and be a wildlife watcher, you’re excluded. I never really recognized that.”

Colin also learned more about the historical attitudes of wildlife agencies towards carnivores. The last of the state’s mountain lions were mostly eradicated by the late 1800s. Part of this eradication was due to the overhunting of prey species but also to systematic bounties placed on carnivores with the goal of wiping them out. Colin says, “We’ve made a lot of ethical progress…and I believe there is hope for change. The history of how we view mountain lions and other species is proof of our change in perspective. We don’t need to look back very far to see that these were unwanted animals to most. I think mountain lions are kind of emblematic of our movement away from that.”

Newspaper excerpt from 192 showing bounty price for mountain lions.
$3 bounties on Nebraska mountain lions in 1922. Source: USDA Farm’s Bulletin 1293: Laws Relating to fur animals 1922.

The first modern case of mountain lions returning to Nebraska was confirmed in 1991 in the Pine Ridge, an escarpment (steep slope) in the northwestern part of the state. In 1995, after a female mountain lion was shot and killed the legislature voted to list mountain lions as game animals. This status offers regulation to their hunting but can’t protect them from hunting itself. Nebraska Game and Parks has launched extensive radio-collaring programs and research, but most of this hasn’t been shared with the public nor submitted for peer review.

In 2014, the agency decided there were enough mountain lions to have a hunt, but the season has been canceled and reinstated more than once as the population numbers rise and fall. The agency’s latest population estimate for the Pine Ridge in 2021 was 33 mountain lions. No estimates have been determined for the Niobrara Valley or Wildcat Hills populations.

At Nebraska Game and Parks, the return of mountain lions to the state was seen as a success. However, “success” in this case only prompted the Agency to set population reduction goals after citing several complaints from landowners.

This logic didn’t make sense to Colin. He learned that mountain lions don’t overpopulate, making hunting unnecessary. He also learned that hunting won’t prevent conflict with humans. “It’s like trying to reduce crime by randomly imprisoning people.” Hunting doesn’t select for “problem” animals, so it is unlikely to solve for anything. Colin wants to see conflict with mountain lions dealt with on an individual level, with each case being treated uniquely, not a blanket assault on the species.

In addition to the Pine Ridge hunt, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission voted to approve hunting in the Niobrara Valley in 2023. In June of 2024 the Commission will be voting on whether to hunt mountain lions in Colin’s home, the Wildcat Hills.

Colin acknowledges that things could be a lot worse in Nebraska. “Some people don’t want any mountain lions in Nebraska, or an open season on them. The agency seems to be trying to find a middle ground.”

Leaping Nebraska lion.
Leaping Nebraska lion. Trail photograph courtesy of Colin Croft.

The case for more research by wildlife agencies

People like Colin who live on the eastern range of lion populations rely on information from states where there’s been more investment into learning about cougars. Colin says, “We rely on research from western states. When we’re thinking about Midwestern states [John] Laundre said we should really be calling them river lions. He makes the point that waterways are their transportation and infrastructure. If you have steeper elevations like in the western states, water goes from point A to point B pretty quickly. Since Nebraska is so flat, we have a lot of meandering waterways. It would really be valuable to have more research in Nebraska to see if mountain lions behave and recolonize differently than in western states. But whatever research we have going on here is done by [Nebraska Game and Parks] for its own purposes. The only time Nebraskans see the research is when it’s used to justify adding another mountain lion hunting season.”

Despite his frustrations with the lack of research investment by his wildlife agency, Colin still finds good in the department, including its support of the Master Naturalist program and their outreach efforts to educate more people about wildlife. Nebraska Game and Parks also puts efforts towards projects like the Nebraska Legacy Project that focuses on conservation. Colin has become a major voice advocating for reform at Nebraska Game and Parks through letters, hearings, petitions, and collaborative projects.

Outside of his work advocating for mountain lions in the Nebraska Game and Parks, Colin is an ambassador for the cougars in his own community. He hosts a Facebook page called “Nebraskans Living with Mountain Lions” to get people excited about the cats, shares his mountain lion images on iNaturalist for citizen science, and posts his mountain lion videos on his YouTube channel. He hopes sharing glimpses into the lives of lions will help people care about them as much as he does, and maybe to speak up for them too.

Two lions in Nebraska. One collared.
“Considering the way they’ve been treated, I think they deserve to be left alone. From an ethics standpoint, they have a life that matters to them and if they aren’t disturbing us, they’ve earned the right to be left alone if only for a generation or two. If there is scientific evidence otherwise, I’ll accept it. But until then, they deserve to be left alone in my book.” Quote and trail photograph by Colin Croft.

One small step for mountain lion protection in Texas

Sometimes small steps are enormously important. On May 23, Texas put two very modest protections in place for the state’s mountain lion population. Though modest, wildlife advocates nationwide celebrated that decision because it marked the first time that Texas has created rules to protect their native lions – ever.

These two new rules, both of which are now in place and enforceable, are common-sense laws that help prevent excessive cruelty to wild mountain lions. The first bans “canned hunts,” which is when an individual wild lion is captured and then later released under controlled conditions so that a trophy hunter can more easily shoot it. The second new rule mandates that traps for mountain lions be checked at least every 36 hours, which in most cases prevents those lions from slowly and painfully dying of dehydration or starvation. The trapped lions are usually still killed, but at least their deaths are likely less horrific.

A trap for mountain lions
A new law in Texas requires that traps like these be checked at least every 36 hours to hopefully prevent lions from dying a slow death from starvation or dehydration. Photograph courtesy of Fin & Fur Films.

Mountain lions are still legally considered “vermin” in Texas, and before now, lions in Texas had no legal protections whatsoever. All other states with lions in them have at least some minimal protections for their mountain lions. So, while these steps in Texas are small ones, they represent a significant change in Texas policy, and they may open the door to additional protections by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission down the road.

While the Mountain Lion Foundation played a small, supporting role in getting these new regulations passed, the lion’s share of the credit goes to Texans for Mountain Lions. This grassroots coalition includes Texas-based landowners, conservation experts, wildlife advocates, and mountain lion scientists. Over the last few years, this coalition has responded to reports of excessive lion killing in Texas and successfully advocated for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission to take these important animals more seriously. To their credit, the Commission created a stakeholder group to study the issues, and these two new rules came to fruition in large part because they were recommended by that stakeholder group.

Another recommendation was to require “harvest reporting” in Texas, meaning that any mountain lions killed by hunters, animal control officers, or trappers would have to be reported to the state’s wildlife agency, Texas Parks & Wildlife. Without data like these, it’s hard to know how many lions are being killed in Texas, so mandatory reporting is an important step toward more robust and proactive lion management. At their most recent meeting, the Commission voiced support for this, so we are hopeful that mandatory reporting will be put in place in Texas in the near future.

A beautiful Texas mountain lion
A mountain lion in Texas. Photograph courtesy of Fin & Fur Films.

The Mountain Lion Foundation thanks Texans for Mountain Lions, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission, and our Texas-based members and supporters for their vocal backing of these new and historic mountain lion protections in Texas – these two new rules are a small but important step in the right direction!

Call for Applicants! The Return of Coexistence Camp, June 28-30

The Mountain Lion Foundation is expanding our cohort of Coexistence Ambassadors! These incredible humans are proactive advocates for mountain lions where they live. Ambassadors receive in-depth, hands-on training at Coexistence Camps in working ranch/agricultural environments.


Our next  Camp will take place in Mendocino County, California on June 28-30. We want you to apply!


The Mountain Lion Foundation launched the Coexistence Ambassador program in 2023, and last year’s Ambassadors are out there right now, fostering coexistence in a number of different ways – they attend public events to staff a Mountain Lion Foundation table, write letters to their elected officials or to the local newspaper editor, help local producers install lion deterrents to protect their livestock, make public presentations about mountain lions, help their neighbors make good choices when mountain lions are seen or encountered in their community, advocate for lion safety on social media, and much more.


We now have trained Ambassadors in six different states.


If you are a passionate proponent of living peacefully with lions, and you want to increase your impact on their behalf, we invite you to apply for this special opportunity in northern California. Travel funds are available! We welcome applicants from anywhere in the U.S.


Apply to be a Coexistence Ambassador and attend our June Camp!


Space is limited. Please apply soon. 


Husking and table time at Coexistence Camp 2023. Image by Lynn Mason.
Coexistence Ambassador, Julie Marshall, loving a resident lamb. Image courtesy of Sean Hoover.
Group hike and wildlife tracking exercise in the Mendocino wilderness. Image by Ubaldo Hernandez.

Busted: Common Claims about the “Necessity” of Mountain Lion Hunting

Wildlife agencies, mountain lion hunters, and conservationists make a lot of claims about mountain lion hunting. Ultimately, their claims are a lot wrong (but also a little right). The United States has a long history of hunting mountain lions. Before 1950, rapid and dramatic changes to land use, overhunting of prey, and bounty hunts for mountain lions led to the extirpation of cougars from much of the US. Mountain lions have recovered in some of these areas thanks to protections for both them and their prey species. However, in many western states, mountain lions are classified as a game animal that can be hunted for sport.

Here are common claims made by wildlife agencies, lion hunters, and conservationists about the necessity of hunting mountain lions:

  1. Mountain lion populations need to be reduced or controlled—through hunting—to prevent mountain lions from damaging the deer or elk population.
  2. Mountain lion populations can be easily reduced or controlled through recreational hunting.
  3. Mountain lion hunting will reduce conflicts with livestock, pets, and people.
  4. Mountain lion hunting will improve the social acceptance of living with mountain lions.

The bases for these claims are varied, and include anecdotal evidence, some scientific evidence, intuition, and a sense of “justice.”

Claim 1: Mountain lion populations need to be reduced or controlled—through hunting—to prevent mountain lions from damaging the deer or elk population.

Scientific research and published peer-reviewed studies about the ecology of mountain lions do not support this claim. The first falsehood is the assumption that mountain lions will overpopulate or need control to begin with. The size of a mountain lion population is limited by food and territorial behavior. Based on these factors, a given area will have a carrying capacity of mountain lions that it can support; the lion population won’t rise above this capacity. Animal populations generally follow this type of population growth, with slower-breeding species (“k-selected” in biology terminology) reaching carrying capacity more gradually.

The carrying capacity of the environment can change for mountain lions if the environment changes, but ultimately overpopulation will not occur because of conflicts between lions and because they can move away from areas with too little food.

For some people, a stable population of lions on a landscape still feels like “too many,” leading to calls for population reductions. Not only is it difficult to reduce mountain lion populations through anything less than drastic levels of hunting (see Claim 2 below) but removing lions can reduce community safety as well (see Claim 3 below). Further, research tells us that lions have tremendous value to local food webs and ecosystems, so reducing lion populations through aggressive hunting damages those ecosystems.

Claim 2: Mountain lion populations can be easily reduced or controlled through recreational hunting.

This claim is complicated. Mountain lion populations do not need to be hunted to control their population, and hunting will only reduce their numbers if enormous numbers are killed (i.e., if the entire population is nearly extirpated).

Hunted mountain lion populations often exhibit source-sink dynamics. When young mountain lions leave their mother’s territories to find their own, males and females disperse, with males often traveling a hundred miles or more to find new homes. A heavily hunted lion population (or one in which more lions die from other causes than are born there) is called a sink. Males from less hunted populations are a source because they fill recently vacated territory in a nearby sink population. Source-sink dynamics account for why a heavily hunted population may never actually have fewer mountain lions.

In most areas of the American West, there is usually a source available to provide for sinks. Game reserves, nearby states with lighter levels of hunting, and areas of the landscape that are difficult for hunters to access are common factors that create a source population within dispersal distance of a sink. Significant disruptions to the mountain lion population can happen in a sink population even while immigration maintains levels at the carrying capacity, and in some cases that disruption increases the local mountain lion population.

Of course it is possible to eradicate mountain lions. Florida is now the only state east of the Mississippi River that has a breeding population of cougars (i.e., the Florida panther). However, cougars weren’t extirpated from the eastern US because of sport hunting. They were eradicated because their prey (e.g. deer and elk) were overhunted, their habitat was dramatically altered/reduced, and governments put bounties on their heads. In the western US, states with hunting programs that aim to control or reduce mountain lion populations are unnecessary and ineffective for their intended outcome.

Big lights, little lion. Image by Jason Klassi.

Claim 3: Mountain lion hunting will reduce conflicts with livestock, pets, and people.

A great deal of research has gone into exploring whether killing carnivores reduces the likelihood of conflict with people, with mixed results. While more robust studies are needed in this area, recent analyses of the existing research concluded that killing carnivores doesn’t reduce conflict — and in fact may make it worse, leading to decreased safety for livestock, pets, and people.

Source-sink dynamics explain this conclusion. Killing a mountain lion doesn’t mean that there is one less lion with which to have conflict. It simply means there is an empty territory for other, younger and less experienced mountain lions to fill.

Non-lethal methods to protect livestock and pets (such as night-penning, fences, livestock guardian dogs, and motion sensor lights) will likely provide better chances of long-term success because these methods do not rely on the unrealistic absence of mountain lions. Learn more about coexisting with mountain lions here.

In terms of human safety, mountain lion attacks are an incredibly rare event. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than attacked by a cougar. Research on the subject is admittedly slim, due to a thankfully tiny sample size. Read more about the risk of mountain lion attacks here.

If mountain lions exist in the wild, there will always be a real, though minuscule, risk of attack. The recreational hunting of mountain lions won’t change that, unless every lion is eradicated. A world without wild animals, including carnivores like mountain lions, would be an ecological catastrophe.

15 day old kittens in den. Image courtesy of Sebastian Kennerknecht and the Santa Cruz Puma Project.

Claim 4: Mountain lion hunting will improve the social acceptance of living with mountain lions.

This is a frequent claim made in regions where people are struggling to coexist with mountain lions, either due to livestock losses or fear of them as predators. Increased mountain lion hunting is often offered as a salve for these issues, even if it won’t actually fix the problem. Hunting won’t reduce conflict, and it usually won’t successfully reduce the population. Hunting is offered not to fix the problem but to make people feel better, or for retribution after livestock is lost.

Regardless, hunting won’t solve these problems. But knowing more about these cats and learning to live with them peacefully might. To learn more about mountain lion biology and behavior, check out the Mountain Lion Foundation’s new resource: Essential Guide to Recent Scientific Research on Mountain Lions.


Cooley, Hilary S, Robert B Wielgus, Gary M Koehler, Hugh S Robinson, and Benjamin T Maletzke. 2009. “Does Hunting Regulate Cougar Populations? A Test of the Compensatory Mortality Hypothesis.” Ecology 90 (10): 2913–21. Dellinger, Justin A, Daniel K Macon, Jaime L Rudd, Deana L Clifford, and Steven G Torres. 2021. “Temporal Trends and Drivers of Mountain Lion Depredation in California, USA.” Human Wildlife Interactions 15 (1). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.26077/c5bb-de20

Elbroch, L. Mark, and Adrian Treves. 2023. “Why Might Removing Carnivores Maintain or Increase Risks for Domestic Animals?” Biological Conservation 283 (July): 110106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110106.

Hawley, Jason E., Paul W. Rego, Adrian P. Wydeven, Michael K. Schwartz, Tabitha C. Viner, Roland Kays, Kristine L. Pilgrim, and Jonathan A. Jenks. 2016. “Long-Distance Dispersal of a Subadult Male Cougar from South Dakota to Connecticut Documented with DNA Evidence.” Journal of Mammalogy 97 (5): 1435–40. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyw088.

Huffmeyer, Audra A., Jeff A. Sikich, T. Winston Vickers, Seth P.D. Riley, and Robert K. Wayne. 2022. “First Reproductive Signs of Inbreeding Depression in Southern California Male Mountain Lions (Puma Concolor).” Theriogenology 177 (January): 157–64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.theriogenology.2021.10.016.

Larue, Michelle A., Clayton K. Nielsen, and Brent S. Pease. 2019. “Increases in Midwestern Cougars despite Harvest in a Source Population.” The Journal of Wildlife Management 83 (6): 1306–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21693.

Laundré, John W., and Christopher Papouchis. 2020. “The Elephant in the Room: What Can We Learn from California Regarding the Use of Sport Hunting of Pumas (Puma Concolor) as a Management Tool?” PLoS ONE 15 (2). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0224638. 20

Lennox, Robert J., Austin J. Gallagher, Euan G. Ritchie, and Steven J. Cooke. 2018. “Evaluating the Efficacy of Predator Removal in a Conflict Prone World.” Biological Conservation 224 (August): 277–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.BIOCON.2018.05.003.

Logan, Kenneth A. 2019. “Puma Population Limitation and Regulation: What Matters in Puma Management?” Journal of Wildlife Management 83 (8): 1652–66. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.21753

Robinson, H. S., Wielgus, R. B., Cooley, H. S., and Cooley, S. W. (2008). Sink populations in carnivore management: Cougar demography and immigration in a hunted population. Ecological Applications, 18(4), 1028– 1037. https://doi.org/10.1890/07-0352.1

Teichman, Kristine J., Bogdan Cristescu, and Chris T. Darimont. 2016. “Hunting as a Management Tool? Cougar-Human Conflict Is Positively Related to Trophy Hunting.” BMC Ecology 16 (1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12898-016-0098-4

Q&A with Cougar Research Pioneer, Dr. Maurice Hornocker

Cover of Maurice Hornocker's book

Dr. Maurice Hornocker is a world-renowned expert on big cats, especially mountain lions. His memoir “Cougars on the Cliff: One Man’s Pioneering Quest to Understand the Mythical Mountain Lion,” was recently released by Lyons Press and chronicles his ground-breaking study of cougar ecology sixty years ago in the Idaho Primitive Area. He agreed to answer the following questions posed by The Mountain Lion Foundation.

*The views represented here are those of the author, and they do not necessarily reflect those of the Mountain Lion Foundation.


What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over your career in how researchers think about mountain lions?

The biggest change has been acknowledging the need for a better understanding of not just total numbers, but regional population differences and characteristics. Think of cats as coins in your pocket. Total value is important. But denomination of the coins is more revealing.

With deer, elk and fish, we’ve concentrated on total numbers because of the desirability of these species for either food or recreation. At the same time, we ignored the life history of species that kill other animals for food.

The sociology of individual regional populations is still lacking in cougar research. Mountain lions, because they are so adaptable, behave differently in the desert than they do in the rain forest, in the wilderness versus the outskirts of Los Angeles. So we must continue paying more attention to the denomination of the coins – the life history of these specific regional populations.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned (about anything) by researching mountain lions?

Cougars are stay-at-homes.

Only newly independent young cats, or those who are ejected from their territory for various reasons, wander in search of permanent homes. The general thinking, according to the old scientific literature, was that they wander all over the place. Not so. They have home ranges and territories. And they stick to the territories unless there’s a natural disaster like forest fires, floods, or something regional that changes the home range acceptability.

In addition to being home bodies, mountain lion sociology, adaptability and population makeup has been surprising. For example, Yellowstone National Park and the nearby Jackson Hole area have virtually the same ecosystems. But our research showed that cougars behave entirely different in the two places. We attribute this to Yellowstone cougars living in a more natural environment compared to Jackson Hole where there’s more human encroachment and activity.

If you could allocate a large National Science Foundation grant to advance mountain lion research, what would be the research you would most like to move forward?

Again, there’s a need for more attention to regional populations. Southern and Northern California, for example, offer contrasting habitats. Mountain lion populations in both regions should be studied for differences and similarities. Accordingly, management should be based on those data.

Research should also focus on human-cougar interactions. People are moving into cougar habitat and increasing the likelihood for bad encounters. Home sites and concurrent landscaping attract deer. Deer attract cougars. Because cougars experience few if any negative experiences in these locations, lions can become habituated and pose a threat to pets and humans. Studies on ways to create negative experiences for cougars (ranging from physical harassment to high-frequency acoustical sounds and other deterrents) would be beneficial.

DNA studies may also lead to more management options. We should sample the DNA of cougars in regional populations and find out if there are differences. Some of these cats might be more likely to interact with or avoid humans? If so, studies on relocation or removal would be beneficial.

While the cats are highly adaptive, they can be stressed and behave in different ways in different habitats. Mountain lions, for example, behave differently in parks and refuges compared to areas where they become stressed by human activities like hunting. (By the way, I have never opposed hunting mountain lions, as long as populations are flourishing and the hunting is done legally and in an ethical manner.)

So DNA analysis might be one way to better understand population differences.

What are the biggest unanswered questions you see in mountain lion management?

If we’re going to manage regional populations, we need to know numbers, behavior and social structure. The recent state-wide census in California, estimating the cougar population at around 4,500, looks like a very thorough one. But we need to identify those specific areas in the state where distinct populations occur. The results could help guide further management options.

We must also gear management to minimizing cougar attacks on humans. Until recently, most of the attacks have occurred on Vancouver Island where there’s a stressed mountain lion population. The majority of human-cougar encounters involve young inexperienced cats. These cougars probably have had a tough time making a living and become habituated to areas occupied by humans where nothing negative happens to them. They hang around and became very bold, and sometimes very dangerous.

I’ve always recommended the prompt removal of such emboldened animals because if there’s one attack, then every cougar will be considered a criminal. It’s like the red-headed bank robber casting suspicion on all red-headed people.

Remember, mountain lions by nature shy away from humans. While conducting our ten-year study in Idaho’s wilderness, Wilbur Wiles and I never carried a gun. Many cougars had numerous opportunities to attack, but they never did. They tried to avoid us.

So problem cats should be removed or euthanized promptly with full public disclosure. [Animal shelters across the U.S.] euthanize hundreds of thousands of pets annually with no apologies. Eliminating emboldened mountain lions from our neighborhoods is better for both cougar conservation and human safety.

What would you say to wildlife agencies, community members, and media in states like Nebraska where mountain lions are beginning to return?

It’s all positive. Mountain lions are moving eastward across the country. Some places in states like Nebraska are over-populated with deer. The arrival of a major predator in such areas will be a positive influence for the entire ecosystem, just as wolves have become in Yellowstone National Park. People should be prepared and management agencies need to let the public know when the cats arrive.

That said, cougars are not going to grow out of control and kill all the deer. Nor will they adversely affect the hunting of deer by humans. Managers should emphasize the self-regulating nature of cougar populations which has been demonstrated in credible studies conducted throughout the mountain lion’s historic range.

Lastly, a lesson from Siberia where colleagues and I studied tigers for years. The indigenous people of Siberia consider healthy tiger populations an indicator of healthy forests. For that reason, the big cats are revered. The same could happen in the United States. Flourishing mountain lion populations might not only signal renewed understanding, but also vibrant ecosystems and in the long run a healthier wild America.

New Resource Available: Essential Guide to Recent Scientific Research on Mountain Lions

Cougar attacks on people are incredibly rare, and when they do happen, they tend to make headlines across the country. Two recent and deeply tragic incidents, one in Washington state and one in California, generated both a flurry of media coverage and a flurry of important questions: Are lion populations increasing? What tools will help with managing mountain lion conflicts? Does mountain lion hunting make attacks more likely?  

Cover of guide to research

With questions like these in mind, the Mountain Lion Foundation has created a new and helpful publication, the Essential Guide to Recent Scientific Research on Mountain Lions. In it, you’ll find straightforward, plain-language answers to some of the most commonly asked scientific questions about mountain lions, backed up by extensive citations from recent scientific research. In creating this new resource, we relied on published, peer-reviewed studies, and if you’re interested in digging deeper, we provided links to those studies so that you can read them for yourself. We also reached out to some of today’s most well-respected cougar scientists to get their feedback on early drafts of this document, to make sure we’re getting our facts right.  

Here at the Mountain Lion Foundation, we’re often the first ones that journalists call when an attack happens. Even in calmer times, we get calls almost every day from our members, from reporters, and from high-level decision-makers, asking us these and other questions about mountain lions: Is hunting a necessary tool to manage mountain lion populations? Are mountain lions returning to their eastern range? What about Chronic Wasting Disease? A big part of our work is serving as a clearinghouse for the best information about mountain lions, and with this publication, we’re able to provide all of these diverse communities with a handy, concise reference that not only shares answers using the best available science, but also debunks some common (and frustratingly persistent!) myths about mountain lions.  

Fascinating new research studies that focus on cougar biology, behavior, social structure, ecology, and more are happening all the time. As new scientific reports are published, we’ll be updating this Guide regularly to reflect that new information. It’s an exciting time for mountain lion science! New lines of research have been made possible by new technologies, and in some cases, longstanding beliefs about the species are being questioned and explored, leading to surprising new discoveries.  

Check out the Mountain Lion Foundation’s new Essential Guide to Recent Scientific Research on Mountain Lions — and tell us what you think! Email us at info@mountainlion.org.  

What you don’t know about livestock guardian dogs

Livestock Guardian Dogs are a new addition to ranching culture in the United States. Only since the 1970s have dogs been implemented at scale on homesteads and ranches to protect livestock.  However, these canines’ place as a cultural staple of coexistence around the world stretches back thousands of years.

Humans’ relationship with livestock guardian dogs is special, and represents one of the most effective coexistence strategies across the globe. From Patagonia to Botswana, farmers and ranchers benefit from working with these ancient pastoral partners.

Chego and Azra with flock
Chego and Azra protect their flock from carnivores. Photo courtesy of Gowan Batist.

Just like most people will never see a wild mountain lion in person, most people won’t work with these unique dogs either. But it’s increasingly important that all of us understand more about them. As planned grazing operations move closer to urban areas, such as goats clearing brush in fire prone freeway margins in California, more of us will experience the moment of cognitive dissonance that comes when a member of the flock suddenly starts to bark!

A few things you (probably) didn’t know about Livestock Guardian Dogs:

  • Livestock Guardian Dog breeds are considered “primitive” and come with unique skills and challenges in the modern world.
  • Great Pyrenees dogs have an extra set of toes, called dewclaws.
  • A Livestock Guardian Dog may consider their territory to be multiple square miles, making containing them sometimes a difficult proposition.
  • It may take three years or more before a Guardian Dog can work effectively in the field unsupervised.
  • Livestock Guardian Dogs are a family of breeds, NOT a description of a role any dog can do. Other dog breeds, or mixes cannot reliably be expected to perform as a Livestock Guardian.
  • Livestock Guardian Dogs bark — a lot. Territorial barking alerts wildlife to keep their distance, keeping livestock and mountain lions both safe. Laws throughout the US protect the right of these dogs to work in some places, but in others they are subject to barking dog laws.
  • There are many harmful myths in the US about Livestock Guardian Dogs, including some advocating for raising them without human contact. These dogs have always been treated as part of traditional pastoralist families.

If you want to learn more livestock guardian dogs, join Mountain Lion Foundation’s Coexistence Program Manager, Gowan Batist, for our next Living with Lions Webinar on Wednesday, March 20 at 12pm PT.

Register for Livestock Guardian Dogs: An Ancient Solution to Modern Wildlife Conflicts here.

Resources and Cited Studies about Livestock Guardian Dogs

Louise Liebenberg: https://predator-friendly-ranching.blogspot.com/

Texas A&M: https://sanangelo.tamu.edu/research/lgd/

Cougar Conservation Botswana https://www.cheetahconservationbotswana.org/information-for-farmers.html

Cheetah Conservation Botswana LGD Handbook: https://www.cheetahconservationbotswana.org/uploads/6/4/3/3/64330039/ccb_lgsd_handbook_2016.pdf

Aggregated studies by Texas A&M: https://sanangelo.tamu.edu/research/lgd/lgd-literature-archives/

Cougar predation of feral donkeys: https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.13766

University of California Cooperative Extension Guidebook: https://ucanr.edu/sites/Rangelands/files/305121.pdf

University of Tasmania Study: https://www.utas.edu.au/about/news-and-stories/articles/2023/the-ancient-practice-of-livestock-guardian-dogs-is-highly-successful-on-australian-farms-today

South Dakota State University Extension: https://extension.sdstate.edu/livestock-guardian-dogs-improved-protection

University of Utah Thesis; Evaluating the Effectiveness of Livestock Guardian Dogs: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=8744&context=etd

Phys.org “Landscape of Fear”: https://phys.org/news/2024-03-livestock-guardian-dogs-landscape-predators.html

Cats aren’t trophies in Colorado (or anywhere else)

By Samantha Miller, Campaign Manager, Cats Aren’t Trophies

Greetings from the frontlines of the CATs campaign in Colorado! I am thrilled to provide an update on Initiative 91, the ballot initiative to ban trophy hunting and trapping of Colorado’s mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx. I would also like to introduce myself as the CATs campaign manager to the Mountain Lion Foundation membership.

Prior to joining CATs, I advocated alongside Mountain Lion Foundation in my role as the executive director of Washington Wildlife First. During that time, we achieved significant victories for wildlife in Washington state, such as the prohibition of spring bear hunting and the advancement of a legislative proviso for agency reform at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

I know the excellent work in Washington is still underway, and I was honored to be asked to return home to Colorado to lead this once-in-a-generation ballot initiative for the Center for Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action.

I have been a lifelong carnivore advocate and worked across the eleven Western states on carnivore coexistence policies. Right now, Colorado has the unique opportunity to lead the nation in biodiversity restoration and wildlife coexistence policies. Initiative 91 is central to this opportunity.

Indiscriminate sport hunting of mountain lions and bobcats damages ecosystems and increases conflicts with people and livestock. Colorado is ground zero for chronic wasting disease and research has shown that mountain lions self-select to prey on deer and elk carrying the disease before they show symptoms, while not catching or transmitting the disease. Cats keep herds healthy!

Image courtesy of Melissa Groo

As CATs charges into February with Initiative 91, we mark a crucial campaign milestone: We are now on the clock to gather 124,238 verifiable signatures from registered Colorado voters by July 4th. We must meet this minimum to qualify for the November 2024 state ballot. This means we need not just to meet the state minimum but to surpass it and collect 170,000 signatures, accounting for potential signature invalidations.

CATs is printing petitions, conducting training sessions, and hitting the ground to collect signatures the first week of February. But we cannot qualify for the 2024 state ballot without your help. Please register as a volunteer signature gatherer, called a “circulator,” to receive a petition packet, training notices, event updates, and recorded sessions. Any United States citizen aged 18 and over can collect signatures in Colorado, even if you’re not a Colorado resident.

Together, we have the power to protect mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx from the brutality of trophy hunting and trapping, and champion healthy, thriving ecosystems in Colorado!

Volunteer to gather signatures for Colorado’s cats!