Mountain lions, big and small
Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. Nicole, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue’s educational ambassador.
When we think of the large predators in this state, probably nothing makes the adrenaline rush more than mountain lions, also known as pumas and cougars. My husband and I both have been fortunate enough to see one in the wild – he while hiking in Sugarloaf, and I, while driving on Cavedale Road. The one Chris saw was sitting a short distance away on the trail. Chris stood still, hardly believing what he was seeing, and shortly thereafter the lion calmly got up and walked away. I was in my car when I saw one crossing the road and disappearing into the brush. The thing I most remember is how long and thick that tail was! Neither one of us will ever forget the experience, with both of us considering it a “10” when it comes to wildlife viewing. I long for the day when we catch one on our critter cam.
I love knowing that we live in an area where mountain lions do, too, and am a firm believer in co-existence with wildlife. I also love living in a state where mountain lions are protected. It is tragic to think that in most states people are still allowed to hunt them.
Mountain lions have been in the news lately in Sonoma County. Early last month, a female mountain lion was trapped and fitted with a GPS collar right here in Sonoma Valley. This is part of a new joint research project between Audubon Canyon Ranch and the Sonoma Land Trust. The lion, identified as P1, is now sending signals back several times a day as to her whereabouts. The researchers involved are hoping to trap more lions so they can study them, the goal being protecting habitat for them and other wildlife.
Right about the same time that the female lion was trapped, a camera trap at Jack London Vineyards caught two nearly adult mountain lions on a trail in the vineyards. It is a lovely video of the two interacting. You can see this video on YouTube: “Mountain lions play at Jack London Winery in Sonoma.”
In June 1990, Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act, was approved by California voters. That act accomplished two things – it stopped sport hunting of mountain lions, and it required that California spend no less than $30 million a year on wildlife habitat protection. Since that time, four changes have been made to the law. One authorizes humane mountain lion research and transparency. Another was Senate Bill 132, which passed in 2013, requiring non-lethal measures to be used to resolve public safety situations when a lion is not acting aggressively. This came about not only as a result of public outcry at the Department of Fish and Wildlife for killing two harmless mountain lion cubs, but for the unnecessary killing of many mountain lions.
Thanks to SB132, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue (SCWR) was able to take in an orphaned female cub earlier this year. Prior to that, mountain lions were not allowed to be rehabilitated. This cub was first seen with her mom and a sibling in Trinity County. Later she was seen wandering alone. She was rescued by a good Samaritan and wound up with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. DFW transferred her to SCWR, which is one of the very few wildlife rescue organizations that has prior experience with mountain lions.
The orphaned cub, now named Nicole, was only two months old at the time. She was critically ill and required surgery. It was definitely touch and go for a month or so, but now, at the age of six months, she is growing, thriving and absolutely gorgeous. Nicole will never be able to be released back to the wild, as she never got the opportunity to be trained by her mother in the skills she would need to survive. While that is sad, she will fill a valuable role in that she will be an educational ambassador for her species. By working with Nicole, the staff at SCWR will get so much good, hands-on experience that they can use to rehabilitate and release wild mountain lions in the future. That is a big plus and something wildlife rehabilitators have wanted to do for a long time.
If you would like to see Nicole in person, SCWR has tours of the wildlife center every Saturday at 2 p.m. Reservations are required. The cost is $10 for kids, $15 for adults. SCWR is located at 403 Mecham Road, Petaluma, and their phone number is 992-0274. Check out their website for more information: scwildliferescue.org. While there, you will be able to see the other wildlife ambassadors which include raccoons, foxes, a bobcat, wolf dogs and an opossum. If you can’t visit in person, you can follow Nicole’s story on Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue’s Facebook page. The page is updated quite often with pictures, videos and stories about Nicole.
Thanks to the California Wildlife Protection Act, we will be able to learn more about mountain lions, one of our most fascinating species.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.