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Mountain Lions Maligned By Misinterpretation of Data

Cougar Columbus Zoo

A recent article in the SFGate  leads with the headline: Study finds mountain lions are feasting on house pets. The article shows an image of a mountain lion isolated on  a dark black background. The article begins “A pet owner’s nightmare, their dog or cat being eaten by a mountain lion, appears to happen with some frequency, according to a new report from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

The SFGate article goes on to discuss the Report to the Fish and Game Commission Regarding Findings of Necropsies on Mountain Lions Taken Under Depredation Permits in 2015.

The report detailed that 107 mountain lions were killed last year legally under provisions of special depredation permits. Of those 107 lions, the stomach contents of 83 were analyzed, and 52 percent were found to have eaten cats, dogs or other domestic animals, the report said. Only 5 percent had eaten deer, which are supposed to be their favorite prey, but are harder to catch than house cats. Of the rest of the lions detailed in the report, 16 percent were not studied, 9 percent had empty stomachs, and 18 percent had contents that were too digested to be identified.

The article then takes the liberty to sensationalize further…

If pets also accounted for a good share of that 18 percent, that would mean more than 60 percent of the lions in the study ate cats, dogs and other domestic animals.

If….if pets also accounted for… that isn’t how data is interpreted.

This article leads with click bait style headings and writing.  Preying on pet owner’s fear that their own beloved pet will be eaten by a mountain lion, and then implying that this happens with some frequency. This article plays upon a misinterpretation of the mountain lion data to instill fear and maligns the mountain lion.

Shedding Some Light On the Mountain Lion Data

Puma (17 years) - Puma concolor

The SFGate article leads the reader to believe that the 107 mountain lions killed on depredation permits are representative of the entire mountain lion population in California. There are an estimated 5,000 of the big cats in the state of California therefore approximately 1% of all mountain lions in the state were found to have domestic pets in their stomachs, not 52%.

It is also important to note that the 107 mountain lions killed on depredation permits were in fact killed because they were targeted as the cat that ate pets or livestock.  Therefore it stands to reason these mountain lions targeted to be killed would be more likely to have domestic animals in their stomachs.

The article should have highlighted the fact that 14% of the mountain lions taken with depredation permits were killed for no reason because  5% had deer in their stomachs and 9% had empty stomachs.  This shows that they targeted and killed the wrong cat, if indeed a lion was the culprit in the first place.

The article mentions that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that coyotes and other predators attack and eat pets at high levels.  Yet, the cat takes the rap.

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  • Theresa Spaid

    We have mountain lions up here. There is only a lion that has been agressive the last few months and are killing our pets. One lady’s little chiauahua was grabbed right in front of her and the lion growled at her when she screamed. That has not happened much until recently. I am worried about my old Shunta in the back yard since the lions are wandering around town at night.

    • Theresa, wow! Is this a new development that the lions are wandering around town? Is there a way to bring your pet indoors at night?

      • Theresa Spaid

        One lady and this is in Deadwood and her new puppy ran to door with a lion behind her by 2 feet. Now she has a pee pad for her puppy. Shunta just goes out to pee and then we let her in. I am hoping houses are too close together for lion to jump our fences. Deer and mountain lions both have been in town especially since the fire in 2002 when a lot trees and grass has been burned.

  • I hate the way facts get twisted. It’s especially bad when they are twisted as heinously as they are in the news item you’ve refereneced.

    • Kay Weir

      Yeah,I think sometimes people are just looking for a reason to hunt the cougars. The mountain lions have a hard time birthing their kittens,then trying to keep them alive until maturity;too many predators kill them. The cats need more protection than they’re getting.

  • da tabbies o trout towne

    wouldn’t it be great if before a story went to print, all facts were CONFIRMED; we send our apologies to the mountain lion ???