Mountain lions fear humans which limits their use of space particularly for males

The puma fears humans and it negatively impacts their lives
The puma fears humans and it negatively impacts their lives. Image: MikeB using Canva.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

A report on a study on the Science Daily website tells us something that perhaps we should know and probably do know namely that mountain lions fear humans. They are not the only wild animal fearing humans. All the wild animals on the African continent which are not socialised to humans fear them. It’s as black-and-white as that but in the case of the mountain lion, this fear affects their behaviour which in turn affects their survival at the end of the day.

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Professor Chris Wilmers, the lead author of the study who works out of University of California, Santa Cruz, said: “Mountain lions fear us, and that fear has all kinds of impacts on their behaviour and ecology. And ultimately, potentially even their populations and conservation”.

Here are some details in a bulleted list about this study:

  • They studied five adult female and eight adult male mountain lions (pumas).
  • The mountain lions were fitted with tracking collars as they roamed their habitats.
  • The study lasted for two months. The collars recorded their positions in high quality and accelerometer information. This measured how fast and how far the cats were moving.
  • The scientists wanted to cross-reference the amount of energy expended in navigating their habitat (their terrain) against the cost of avoiding humans in terms of energy and time in order to see how both these factors affected the use of their habitats.
  • Obviously, if the terrain is less rugged the cats expend less energy which is why mountain lions prefer habitats which are easy to cross if possible and if not interfered with by the presence of humans.
  • They also compared housing densities with the data received from the tracking collar.
  • In areas of higher density housing, the mountain lions expended more energy in more energetic and demanding movements. They stopped less and moved more quickly. Their movements were less efficient because they didn’t take the shortest path to their objective but a meandering path to avoid what they thought were risks.
  • Humans are a risk factor and therefore they have to avoid them but in doing so they expended more energy. In short, the presence of humans altered their behaviour negatively.
  • Male mountain lions were particularly affected by high housing density such that their home ranges were 78.8% smaller compared to those in more remote places. In other words, their home range i.e. the territory they regard as their home, was reduced by more than three quarters because of a human presence.
  • Males are more affected by human presence and it is regarded as the “primary driver of male patterns of space use”. Females are less concerned. The difference may be due to the fact that males require much larger home ranges than females to improve the chances of finding a mate.
  • The Science Daily report states that “Overall researchers are concerned that pressure to avoid humans may harm the health of local mountain lion populations”.
  • Barry Nickel, director of UC Santa Cruz’s Center for integrated space to research said: “It [human presence] constrains their space use, which could then affect other aspects of their ecology, like finding mates, finding food, competing with other males, or other natural interactions.”

Source reference: Barry A. Nickel, Justin P. Suraci, Anna C. Nisi, and Christopher C. Wilmers. Energetics and fear of humans constrain the spatial ecology of pumasPNAS, 2021 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2004592118

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