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The Mountain Lions Are Hunting Among Us

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Alright, time for your weekly dose of mountain lion news. Would you believe it if we told you mountain lions were known to actively hunt less than a mile from ddeveloped areas?

Well, they are! A decades long study by the UCLA Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and the National Parks Service used GPS information from tracked animals to study specific locations where the animals killed prey. While most of the kills occur in distinctly undeveloped areas, people's propensity to build stuff in mountain lions' natural habitats means, perhaps not so shockingly, that mountain lions hunt very close to people.

We've kind of known this unofficially for some time. Animals like the Griffith Park Mountain Lion, P-22, and others who live very close people have to eat, and it could be reasonably deduced that, therefore, they hunt close to people. This study, however, is the first actual analysis of exact hunting spots.

Take a look at the above map, where each red dot signifies a 'predation' site as determined by the study's authors. Of the 420 total kill-sites examined, only two were actually located in developed areas. A gender-divide between male and female animals was also found. While male mountain lions usually caught their prey deep in the chaparral and woodland areas, female animals were found to, on average, make their kills less than one mile from the human development.

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Aside from when they're mating, male and female mountain lions stay apart. Male mountain lions can be dangerous for females and their cubs, and the fact that females stay closer to people likely has much more to do with their antipathy towards male mountain lions than an affection for humans.

Looking at the map, a lot of L.A.'s most exclusive neighborhoods like Pacific Palisades and Calabasas border mountain lions' natural habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains. Looking over to Burbank, it looks like there's at least one animal hanging around in the Verdugos.

To build the above map, scientists examined GPS data returned by the animals' tracking collars and looked for spots that the animals returned to multiple times over multiple days. An animal returning to the same spot over and over again signals that the animal had caught something. After the animal stopped returning to its spot, researchers themselves visited the sites looking for evidence. Deer are, according to the study, the most common food for mountain lions, however researchers also noted they found coyotes and raccoons.

Scientists are conducting lots of very present tense research on mountain lions who live around Los Angeles, studying how the animals adapt to living adjacent one of the world's largest and most developed cities. While the animals are reproducing and having cubs, an unsettling amount are also killed when they attempt to cross freeways. For mountain lions, freeways are often impassable barriers that can strictly limit movement. Eleven animals have been killed in recent years on L.A.'s roads, according to the National Park Service.

Curiously, Los Angeles is one of only two megacities worldwide where people live basically side-by-side with large predatory cats. The other is Mumbai, where people live side-by-side with leopards.