"Urban Carnivores" covers Santa Monica Mountains wildlife

An urban mountain lion visits Chatsworth Reservoir in Los Angeles County

National Park Service

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News Release Date: March 23, 2010

Contact: Lauren Newman, 805-370-2343

The National Park Service announced today that a new book entitled Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation is now published and available to the public. The book is the first to address the topic, and covers the ecology and behavior of well-known urban carnivore species around the world. Several of the chapters were authored by National Park Service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley and are based on carnivore research done in Southern California. These chapters discuss the impact that urbanization has on mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes in the Santa Monica Mountains region, and represent one of the most comprehensive accounts of wildlife activity in the mountains to date. 


Residents and frequent visitors to the Santa Monica Mountains sometimes catch glimpses of coyotes and bobcats, and much more rarely, mountain lions. With over half of the world’s population living in urban environments, and a significant number of those living in the Los Angeles region, carnivore interaction is a growing area of research for wildlife managers, conservationists, urban planners, and the public at large. Urban Carnivores will be of particular interest to Southern California residents who are curious about the wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains, and want an insider’s view of animal activity that is sometimes difficult for the citizen scientist to observe.  


Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a national park unit near Los Angeles, has been conducting urban carnivore research since 1996. The studies use radio collars to track bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, and mountain lions. Based on animal locations determined by biologists tracking animals in the field and using GPS collars that record and transmit locations using satellites, scientists have tracked wildlife movement throughout the mountains. They have also studied larger movement patterns between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains to the north. Over the past 14 years that the National Park Service has studied carnivores in the area, scientists have witnessed many interesting phenomena that are now documented in Urban Carnivores


Beginning in 1996, the bobcat study is one of the longest of its kind, allowing park biologists to document longer term population and movement trends. In 2002 and 2003, a mange epidemic swept through the Santa Monica Mountains bobcat population, killing 20 of the 30 bobcats that were part of the study. Following the mange epidemic, scientists have focused the study on population recovery and the underlying causes of mange in wild animals. The National Park Service and partners at UCLA and UC Davis are currently studying the relationship between anticoagulant rodenticides and the occurrence of mange by studying bobcats both close to urban areas where anticoagulants are most prevalent, and also in more rural locations.


Urban Carnivores also discusses the National Park Service mountain lion study which began in 2002. Since then, 15 mountain lions have been tracked via GPS radio collars in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. Because of the vast habitat area required by adult mountain lions, none of the protected areas in the region, including the Santa Monica Mountains themselves, are large enough for a healthy puma population over the long-term, so connectivity between remaining natural areas is critical. In 2003 and 2004, the study saw mountain lion P-3 make seven round trip voyages across Hwy 118 at the Rocky Peak exit between the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana mountains to the north. In February of 2009, scientists tracked the first documented mountain lion crossing Hwy 101, near the Liberty Canyon exit. The study also saw the successful mating between mountain lions P-1 and P-2, resulting in four mountain lion cubs. 


The coyote study highlighted in Urban Carnivores took place between 1996 and 2003. The study found that despite the highly urbanized setting, coyotes were still eating mostly natural foods and spending the majority of their time in natural areas. Though the study is complete, the National Park Service, with partners such as the City of Los Angeles, hopes to begin a new study examining human-coyote conflict in urban areas and different ways that land management and wildlife policies can encourage coexistence between coyotes and humans in urban landscapes.


The wildlife studies have prompted a closer partnership between the National Park Service, California Department of Transportation, California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Fish and Game, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and other local agencies to create more wildlife crossings under and over significant obstacles such as Interstate 405 and Highway 101. The most effective places to put the wildlife crossings are still under study. When completed, they will allow animals to move between key habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains, up into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains, and beyond to Los Padres National Forest. The studies also use wildlife cameras, which are spread throughout the region and along Interstate 405 and Highway 23. These cameras are motion activated, and take pictures of mountain lions and bobcats, among other animals, that are using highway crossing points, and may not have previously captured and collared by wildlife scientists. 


The National Park Service anticipates studying bobcats for the foreseeable future. The mountain lion study is currently unfunded as of October, 2009. Radio collars for mountain lions cost approximately $4,000 per collar. This cost, as well as the labor involved in capturing mountain lions and fitting them with radio collars may mean that the mountain lion study will be significantly reduced in the near future. 


This summer, on July 10th, co-author Seth Riley will give a lecture on Urban Carnivores at the National Park Service headquarters in Thousand Oaks, CA. Copies of the book will be available for purchase shortly at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Thousand Oaks, CA, and are currently available at various online retail outlets.


Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation is published by Johns Hopkins University Press. In addition to many chapters covering research on the Santa Monica Mountains, the book includes well-known urban species such as raccoons, red foxes, Eurasian badgers, and endangered San Joaquin kit foxes, who are more surprising urban residents. Synthesis chapters cover topics such as conflicts between urban carnivores and people, conservation of carnivores in urban landscapes, and the relationships between urban carnivores and other species. National Park Service authors are joined by other contributors including scientists who have conducted long-term carnivore studies in large cities across North America and from Great Britain and Europe. 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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