- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
A mountain lion tracked with a GPS collar by UC Davis scientists made a two-month, 100-mile trek through San Diego County - skirting highways, the Wild Animal Park and Camp Pendleton beaches - before being shot in April because he raided a farm near the community of Japatul.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported last Saturday on the improbable journey of M56, the moniker by which the lion was known.
The UC Davis Wildlife Health Center began the mountain lion tracking project in 2000, the article said. At first, scientists focused on evaluating the impact of lions on federally protected bighorn sheep in Riverside and San Diego counties. Over time, they also assessed human-lion interactions and patterns of movement.
In 10 years, the scientists have collared 53 lions. Twenty-five of those have died from disease, collisions with cars, unlawful hunting and state-approved killings to remove animals deemed a nuisance.
UC Davis veterinarian Winston Vickers told reporter Mike Lee that about 20 adult lions now live in the Santa Ana Mountains, which are almost entirely separated from other habitat by freeways and homes.
The odyssey of M56 surprised scientists.
"We didn’t even have any idea that a mountain lion could travel that far in this fragmented landscape so quickly,” the story quoted Trish Smith, a senior ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in San Diego.
Ultimately, M56 found a farm with six or eight sheep and at least one sheep was killed. If the owner of a deceased domestic animal requests its killer be put down, officials are obligated to do so.
However, in its short life - estimated to be between 18 and 20 months long - M56 did its part for mountain lion conservation. The story said scientists will continue to reference M56's incredible journey for years as they study how people and lions can co-exist.
Read more about mountain lions in California on the Southern California Ecosystem Health Program website.