Mountain lions are eating California wild donkeys. Why scientists say this is a good thing.
Mountain lions have been eating and possibly extirpating California donkeys for the past six years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Thursday. In all that time, the DFW said it had documented only three confirmed incidents of lion predation.
The lion population in California, which in 2014 was estimated at about 2,900 individuals, has fallen by more than 50 percent since the 1970s, to about 2,100 that year. The state is now fighting a multi-faceted war with its predators.
“The big question,” said Richard Sexton, a professor of ecology at UC Santa Barbara, “is what the big difference is between these populations when they overlap? Is there a new equilibrium? Can they all go extinct together?”
The current lion population in California has shrunk by nearly 80 percent. Many of these animals have been captured and relocated into national parks and wilderness areas, such as the California Condors and Joshua Tree National Monument.
There’s another strategy that has worked in the past: trapping on remote islands, such as islands in Puget Sound and in the San Juan Islands in Washington.
There are many questions about the lion population in California, Sexton said, but he noted that the DFW’s numbers are about what biologists need to accurately assess lion population declines.
In the last two years, there have been no confirmed lion attacks in California from mid-August through October—the middle of bear season.
“I think we can all agree that they are very concerned about the big population decline,” Sexton said in an interview. “The more lion populations we can see in the wild, the less likely we are going to see those attacks and the fewer of these animals we are going to have to relocate.”
Sexton is an assistant professor of ecology at UC Santa Barbara and works with the DFW. He said lion population declines