By Carrie Alidaee & Aida Rodriguez
Picture this: A mother stretches luxuriously in the warm sunshine while her three children play rambunctiously nearby. Sounds like a typical day here in San Diego, except this is no typical mother — she’s a mountain lion!
As San Diegans, we are fortunate to live in one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, sharing our spaces with thousands of native plants and animals. Mountain lions are just one of the many fascinating creatures that live in our vibrant San Diego County ecosystem.
Like human mothers, a mountain lion mother takes care of her young until they can look after themselves, for lions, ranging from 1.5 to 2 years. Mountain lion mothers only nurse their kittens for the first seven weeks and dedicate the rest of their time teaching their young how to survive independently.
Female mountain lions are known to be extremely devoted moms, spending nearly 75% of their lives pregnant or raising dependent kittens. She teaches them how to live in the wild and hunt for their food.
Once the children have grown, they will leave their childhood home to find a place of their own. Her daughters will stay closer to their birthplace, with a range of around 60 square miles. Her sons, however, are more territorial and will dominate ranges as large as 150 miles.
For San Diego populations of mountain lions to remain healthy, they must have enough room to live and move safely to other natural areas to establish their own territories and find mates (per www.cserc.org).
If you encounter a lion, do not approach them. Make yourself appear larger and more aggressive by raising and waving your arms. Keeping eye contact. Slowly walk backward, continuing to exhibit this behavior. Pick up any young children. Wave raised arms slowly. Make noise.
Speak firmly and loudly to disrupt their predatory behavior. Never run from a lion or crouch down. Most cougars want to avoid humans. Give a lion the time and space to steer clear of you.
In San Diego County, human development has fragmented native landscapes preventing the free movement of wildlife across the region. Wildlife corridors are essential in providing wildlife safe access to various habitat resources across varying landscapes that may change with climate and seasons. Wildlife corridors connect populations of wildlife that human activities might otherwise separate.
To address this issue in the Escondido Creek watershed, The Escondido Creek Conservancy launched The Missing Lynx campaign that prioritizes land acquisition in areas contiguous to other preserved lands or which will otherwise help create wildlife corridors to connect wildlife preserves from Encinitas to Valley Center and Bear Valley.
Wildlife corridors should be large enough to accommodate the needs of the mule deer that need a steady supply of vegetation for browsing and for the mountain lions that follow them. Habitat size is important because the larger an area of natural habitat, the more species it can support.
All species — including birds, reptiles, and plants — benefit from this natural “freeway,” allowing them to migrate and find new places to live when their habitat changes unfavorably. In the face of climate change, where habitat conditions are changing in response to warmer and drier temperatures, wildlife corridors and mountain lions are especially important in maintaining a healthy balance of plant and animal populations.
This natural community is also our community, and it’s one that we hope to be able to share with future generations to come.
Carrie Alidaee is a long-time volunteer at The Escondido Creek Conservancy. Aida Rodriguez is an Outreach Associate at The Escondido Creek Conservancy.
A message from the Conservancy: You can help our mountain lion “neighbors” thrive by supporting our conservation efforts. In giving to the Escondido Creek Conservancy, you are helping wildlife and precious habitats in the Escondido Creek Watershed. To donate, go to escondidocreek.org/donate. For questions, please contact [email protected]