Last week we visited the final resting places of two of our male lions, 16M and 17M. In both life and death, these two lions embodied the diversity of fates that may befall pumas living in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
17M was a small, 2 year old male when we first caught him in 2010. He lived near the coast surrounded by his neighbors 4M, 3M, and later 36M.
We captured him a total of 3 times, but unfortunately, each of his collars malfunctioned in one way or another. The last collar we had on him wouldn’t transmit data, but we were able to download his GPS coordinates once we retrieved the collar. In the three years we tracked him, 17M generally maintained the same territory, and overlapped quite a bit with 4M, another territorial male.
After 4M died, it’s likely that 36M started expanding his territory and eventually ran into 17M. At between 100 and 110 pounds his whole adult life, 17M likely was killed by the much larger 36M. On his skull, we found evidence of damage consistent with a bite from a male puma.
16M was the polar opposite of 17M; he was a large male, weighing between 130 and 140 pounds, who was always out to conquer and explore more territory. While 17M stuck around his original territory, 16M was boldly expanding his, crossing Highway 17 more than 30 times despite being hit by a car during one his earlier crossings. He earned his 15 minutes of fame in the local newspapers for his feats and amazing survival story. People were drawn to 16M for his ability to survive and thrive despite living with a major freeway in the middle of his range. When I give talks about our project, people would often ask about him by the name given him by the press, Atlas.
Towards the end of his life, 16M was still exploring new territory east of Highway 17. We had been unable to locate him for a few months, and thought he might have moved out of monitoring range. But last week, we finally picked up his radio signal while on a routine flight and heard a double beep, signifying a mortality event. We had always imagined that he might get killed while crossing Highway 17, but ironically, what finally did him in in the end was a tempting meal.
16M was killed around Thanksgiving of last year for eating domestic animals. Coincidentally, another of our male pumas, 34M, was shot at the same time for similar reasons. The deaths of 16M and 34M highlight the conflict that exists between domestic animals and pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Pumas pose almost no danger to humans, but they will not always be able resist an easy meal of sheep or goats. Livestock naturally run away from predators, but when they are penned in, they have nowhere to escape. For pumas, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. To help protect livestock and pumas, we encourage mountain residents to apply simple measures like putting goats and sheep in an enclosed structure at night. Not only will this protect our animals from becoming a puma’s next meal, it will also save a puma from eating its final meal.