Mountain lions in Southern California and the Central Coast are at risk of extinction and some imperiled cougar populations could disappear in a little more than a decade, conservation groups said Tuesday in a petition to list the wild cats as threatened or endangered under California’s Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Mountain Lion Foundation formally petitioned the state Fish and Game Commission to seek protection for lions in, among other areas, the Santa Ana, Santa Monica, San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains.
Some Southland lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study cited by the two groups. Researchers at UC Davis, UCLA, and the National Park Service predicted that if inbreeding depression occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica population within 15, according to the conservation groups.
“Our mountain lions are dying horrible deaths from car collisions and rat poison, and their populations are at risk from inbreeding too,” said Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the center and primary author of the petition. “Without a clear legal mandate to protect mountain lions from the threats that are killing them and hemming them in on all sides, these iconic wild cats will soon be gone from Southern California.”
Habitat loss and fragmentation caused by freeways and sprawl have led to high levels of genetic isolation and human-caused mortality. These lion populations suffer from dangerously low genetic diversity. The animals are often killed trying to cross freeways, in retaliation for preying on livestock, and by poachers. Others die after consuming prey that have ingested toxic rodenticides. Whenever a female lion dies, there’s a good chance kittens are being orphaned, Yap said.
Mountain lions have profound impacts on their environment, which help to support the overall health of California ecosystems, the biologist said. Their kills provide an important food source for a host of wild animals, including California condors and gray foxes, and their presence benefits rare native plants, butterflies and even songbird populations.