A few days ago I received the following anonymous alert from a reader of this blog:
"FYI, we stayed at Bodega Sand Dunes Campground Friday night and had a frightening close call with a mountain lion at 3:15 AM. After feeding the baby my wife left to visit the restroom without a flashlight. She had onlt taken a couple of steps when a cougar "screamed" at her no more than 25 feet away (sounded like less than 10). She froze and it screamed at her again. To me it sounded like a warning to stay away - a very scary warning that sends shivers down your spine. I called out to my wife who unfroze and dashed back into the tent. We were escorted out of the site as we were quite shaken. I wasn't overly concerned for the safety of my wife and I, but know that small children may be in danger so we left. I am an avid outdoorsman and have been my entire life (first backpacking trip at 6 months old), but those screams at my wife are still haunting. Best I can tell is the cougar was stalking a deer that was walking through our campsite. The cougar was down wind of us and deer footprints went right by our tent the opposite direction. My wife unwittingly opened the tent door and started walking towards its hiding place that wasn't far away and sent the warning screams at my wife. I have always wanted to see a cougar, but hope the next one we see uses better manners and says "please" and "thank you." :) We love the area and will be back again (just at a less remote camp site). Nice to know it is even more natural than I anticipated with even Mt. Lions."
After reading this I immediately contacted two people whose knowledge and professionalism I greatly respect. They are professional tracker, Jim Sullivan, and 'The Felidae Conservation Fund' Founder, Zara McDonald. I will write a follow up post featuring comments and tracking information from Jim Sullivan. Zara McDonald is the author of today's guest post.
"For many people, it can be disconcerting to realize that the beautiful wildlands we so enjoy around the Bay Area also serve as habitat for mountain lions (also called pumas or cougars). After all, the mountain lion is a fierce killer that can eat a human for dinner without a second thought, right? Well not exactly. The last time someone was killed by a mountain lion in the Bay Area was over 100 years ago, and it wasn't as a meal (a bite from a lion resulted in rabies). Though rarely seen, mountain lions live among us, and if we were on their menu, a lot more of us would be ending up as lunch."
Zara with cougar ~'The Felidae Conservation Fund'
"Lions prefer to move and live in the wildest landscapes where their natural prey is abundant, but development and fragmentation of habitat has changed movement and dispersal patterns in lions. So we are seeing them more than was typical in the past." "The Bay Area Puma Project (www.bapp.org) is working to change the fearful perception of mountain lions. The project partners are working hard to get the word out that the mountain lion is very rarely a danger to humans."
"Mountain lions are a ethereal animal that plays a critical role at the top of the food chain and are a keystone species in our local ecosystems. The mountain lions presence in the habitat is essential for maintaining the health and balance of the natural world we so enjoy. (Their mere presence lowers the risk of deseases such as lyme disease because lions feed on deseased and weakened prey)."
"The Bay Area Puma Project was created because rapid human development in the region is threatening the very existence of healthy puma populations, and if we lose them, the health of our environment will go into decline. We urgently need to change this course, and find healthy ways for humans to co-exist with pumas, and all wildlife."
"The Puma Project has already fitted 26 cats with tracking collars in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including 4 puma kittens, and is currently expanding the research to the East Bay and North Bay. More information about mountain lions, as well as a list of upcoming talks and events, can be found at Felidae's website: www.FelidaeFund.org".
Field team in Pakistan, photo courtesy of 'The Felidae Conservation Fund'
I asked Zara, "What inspired you to establish 'The Felidae Conservation Fund?"
Zara McDonald, photo courtesy of 'The Felidae Conservation Fund'
"I was done with pre med and was moving away from medical school plans toward wildlife ecology, with a special interest in the role wild felids play in the ecosystem. I was an ultra marathoner at the time and had 2 separate sightings at the end of long runs, one very close, within 6 months of each other, in the Marin headlands. This was about 8 or 9 years ago.
A lion’s head popped out of the riparian at eye level to me and about 5 feet away. I stopped running and we stared each other down. I was struck by the beauty of the animal and how natural it looked in the landscape. It seemed to look right through me. I felt like an intruder, and although I was scared, I knew he was going to walk away, and 15 seconds later he turned and left as quickly as he appeared. My life was changed from that moment on, in a powerful, and at the same time a subtle way that grew as time passed. The memory haunted me, and I held it close. Yet I knew I needed to do more. It seemed to fit well with my direction and over the next 2 years with encouragement from friends and colleagues, I started Felidae. Our mission is to advance the awareness and conservation of wild felids and their habitats all over the world."
Zara and villagers, photo courtesy of 'The Felidae Conservation Fund'
Thank you Zara for generously giving your time and information, and for your critical work in saving big cats the world over.
For more information, events, photos, videos and audio about mountain lions and other big cats go to these outstanding websites:
On Friday, August 12, 2011, I received an early morning call from Marine Mammal Center volunteer Phil Warren inviting me to witness the release of four harbor seal pups. I wasn't able to attend the release but Phil generously sent the following narrative of the day's event.
Antonio (m), admitted 4/30/11, rescued at the mouth of Estero San Antonio near Dillon Beach
Yorkshina Pudding (f), admitted 5/1/11, rescued at Pudding Creek Beach in Mendocino County
Sulis (f), admitted 6/7/11, rescued at Carmel River State Beach in Monterey County and
Zoeroo (m), admitted 6/20/11, rescued in Point Lobos State Reserve in Monterey County
All the pups had been separated from their mom and were anywhere from a few days old to a few weeks old when rescued. Moms abandon pups for a variety of reasons. Sometimes first time moms give birth away from a rookery and don’t quite know what to do with the pup. In other cases, pups may be parked on the beach while mom feeds and people and/or dogs may deter mom from picking up the pup. Antonio and Yorkshina Pudding spent longer than usual at The Marine Mammal Center because they didn’t seem to get the hang of eating fish as quickly as others. Prior to release, each pup has to pass ‘fish school’, demonstrating that it has the ability to catch and eat live fish.
Harbor seals gather in rookery areas, like the rookery at the end of the Russian River. When not in the rookery area, they tend to be more solitary. When pups are released, some of them seem to hang out with each other for a while and others just swim away without looking back. I don’t think the release bonding lasts very long and evidence from satellite tagged pups indicate that they quickly go their separate ways.
The colored plastic “caps” are for visual identification only. They also have numbered orange tags on their rear flippers. Occasionally we put satellite transmitters on the pups, but they cost several thousand dollars and are not recoverable. The “caps” and satellite transmitters fall off when the seals molt, the flipper tags are permanent.
When the general public encounters a marine mammal, the proper course of action is to observe from afar. If it appears that the animal is sick or injured, gather as much information as possible about the animal and its location and call the Marine Mammal Center (415-289-SEAL). We have trained volunteers all along 600 miles of California coastline prepared to respond to evaluate and, if necessary, rescue the animal. AND…bring your family and friends to visit the Center in the Marin Headlands (Sausalito), open 7 days a week, 10AM-5PM.
A tremendous heartfelt thank you to Phil and Jean Warren for their devoted rescue efforts of our sick and injured Sonoma Coast marine mammals, and for keeping me up to date about the critters and the goings-on over at The Marine Mammal Center.
A huge thank you to Tami Peterson for giving me permission to post her poignant photographs. They tell a beautiful story beyond what words can express.