Mountain lions face greater risk of becoming roadkill in wildfire’s aftermath, study says
A mountain lion has more reason to fear fire than the average human, a new study says, because the creatures may be less likely to flee from a burning home.
“We might not expect mountain lions to have a good sense of smell or a good sense of fear, but we do expect them to be more likely to chase cats,” said study author James Dorminey, an ecologist at the University of Oregon.
This is because the predators’ instinct is to seek out the source of food, he said, and many mountain lions are known to prey on cats.
“Mountain lions may be better able to get to the cats they’re after, and they know where they live, whereas humans might not know where their cats are. There is a lot of overlap.”
Mountain lions are on the rise in the west, where they are becoming common in areas like Yosemite National Park, where there are now more than 1,300.
But the animals are facing greater risks from human-caused wildfires, as the number of large blazes has increased globally, and they are much less effective at fleeing from a burning home.
“When you say ‘fire,’ the first thing you think of is heat,” Dorminey said. “But many species are more likely to be killed by heat, or by injury, not by fire.”
To investigate the role that fires play in the behaviour of mountain lions, Dorminey, who is based at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ California Mountain Lion Center, carried out a long-term study in the NevadaTest Range, an area known for its heavy wildfires across a wide area in four counties.
He and his colleagues set traps between 2004 and 2013, and released as many as 50 different mountain lion and cat pairs to find the cats, which ranged from small litters, like those of coyotes, to females with litters of up to 11 cubs.
They found that of those cats that they caught and tagged, 12% did not return to their territory following a fire, while the remaining 88% returned to the same place as they had been before the fire.
Dorminey said that the results indicated that not only had the cats not been able to evade the flames but they did not want to.