Protecting your pets and backyard livestock from predators
By Mary Leo
I thought our property was free from mountain lions. After all, in my dozen or so years of owning goats, predators had never been an issue. With lack of predator activity and a strong canine presence, I thought we were safe.
My first two goats died within three months of each other. Since they were 17 years old (ancient by goat standards), I thought their deaths were due to natural causes.
I replaced them with two beautiful, young mini-Nubians and housed them in an approximately 1,000-square-foot paddock enclosed with five-foot tall fencing. Two months later, one of the kids disappeared. My husband and I were baffled since there were no signs of predator activity such as blood, loose fur, drag marks or changes to our fence, nor had there been any noises, not even a barking dog. We could only assume our goat had escaped on his own. We searched, to no avail, and finally concluded that perhaps he had joined a herd of sheep, deer or even cows.
It wasn’t until his brother disappeared a month later that I considered the possibility of foul play. Again having seen no signs of predator activity, I dismissed the idea of a mountain lion attack, instead tending to believe my goats had been stolen and used for resale, brush clearing or worse, dinner. Nevertheless, I posted a notice at Nextdoor.com.
Before long, I received a message from Dr. Quinton Martins, the principal investigator and director of the Living with Lions Project of Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR). After relating what had happened, Dr. Martins pinpointed my location using Google Maps and offered to investigate our property and adjacent areas close to Matanzas Creek. Dr. Martins suspected a predator attack and after combing the area for just minutes, he found evidence confirming my goats had been killed by a mountain lion.
My first thought was, “How were they taken? How could a predator enter by jumping a five-foot fence, then jump out carrying a 65-pound goat?” That day I learned more than I ever wanted to know about mountain lion. So, if you think you are exempt from a mountain lion encounter, I’d like to share some facts that could change your mind.
A mountain lion can jump a 15-foot fence alone and a 10-foot fence carrying small livestock in its jaws. If you think a six- or eight-foot fence will deter one, think again. It takes at least a 12-foot fence with a three- to four-foot slanted overhang for truly effective protection. For added security, you can place an electric wire atop the fence. Also keep in mind that jumping fences isn’t the only way a lion can enter your property; for instance, they also can climb overhanging tree limbs and then jump down onto it.
Since creeks are perfect corridors for mountain lions, areas close to them are particularly vulnerable; however, lion activity can take place far beyond creek-adjacent areas. As territorial creatures, lions have large ranges. In fact, a male mountain lion in Sonoma County can claim some 17,000 properties over 250 square miles. (The typical range for female lions is between 40 and 50 square miles.)
Studies have shown that removing a lion from its territory by relocation or killing does not increase pet or livestock safety. In fact, when a territorial lion is killed, the risk to nearby pets actually could increase, since multiple lions now can invade the newly vacated territories. Where you once had to deal with only one lion within an area of a couple hundred square miles, you now could have two or three vying to occupy the area. Until the underlying causes for animal losses are addressed by protecting them, risk will always remain.
Often, mountain lions will drag their prey to an area of thick brush or cover where they feel comfortable feeding, then cover the remains with leaves, grass, or pine needles to protect it from spoilage and conceal it from other predators. If the area is left undisturbed, a mountain lion may return to the same site over a period of several days to feed on its kill. Solitary male lions will consume roughly four to five deer-sized animals a month while females, who often have young with them, may consume up to eight deer-sized animals.
Preliminary studies have shown that in Sonoma and Napa counties, deer form approximately 75 percent of a lion’s diet, cats 10 percent, livestock 10 percent with other small animals comprising the remainder. Although a threat to pets and livestock, lions are known to be a minor threat to people.
“The best way to protect your livestock from mountain lion attacks,” says Dr. Martins, “is to arm yourself with knowledge and learn how to coexist with them as well as with other predators.” For small operations, keep your animals inside between dusk and dawn when mountain lions are most likely to hunt.
If you don’t have an existing barn or outbuilding, Dr. Martins advises building an enclosure and making certain all four sides, the floor, and the roof are sealed. Shielding the bottom of the fence with a 30-foot-plus solid panel helps to prevent predators from inserting their paws as well as restricts their view into the enclosure.
Daytime attacks are less likely but not unheard of, so it’s helpful to place a solar powered radio (tuned to 24-hour talk radio) nearby since lions dislike the sound of the human voice. Also, trail cameras may be useful should you want to see what has been prowling around at night. Although installing other motion- or time-activated devices like lights and alarms may help deter predators, Dr. Martins believes these devices may be less effective since most predators have become accustomed to numerous artificial stimuli throughout neighborhoods. He and his team plan on studying the efficacy of such deterrents in different environments.
Other precautions include never tethering livestock since it makes them an easy target for predators. And since predators are attracted by the smell of blood, it is essential to house injured and birthing animals in fully enclosed structures. Immediately remove afterbirth, carcasses and other animal by-products from areas near livestock enclosures and residences. Finally, clearing brush and debris will deprive potential predators of a hideout.
“Since pets and livestock do not have the skills to protect themselves,” stresses Dr. Martins, “it is imperative the animals’ owners take responsibility for their safety. Mountain lions and other predators will kill unprotected animals given the chance, however, they play a vital role in the ecosystem and removing them is a knee-jerk reaction which in nearly all cases benefits no one.”
For more information or if you have encountered any livestock losses, contact ACR Living with Lions Project Director Dr. Quinton Martins at firstname.lastname@example.org or view their website at egret.org/living-with-lions.
Mary Leo is a Bay Area freelance writer who lives in Bennett Valley. She can be reached by email at email@example.com