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Saturday, September 25, 2010

M56 - A Window into the Life of an Urban Cougar

Map from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved. 
The LA Times has an engaging and challenging story about M56, a 20-month old cougar tagged in Orange County back in March by researchers from UC Davis.  The story highlights his journey of almost 100 miles over two months through the urban matrix of Southern California before eventually being trapped and euthanized after attacking livestock.  It draws out the difficult realities of integrating wildlife, particularly predatory animals, into the urban matrix, while underscoring the profound capacity of certain wildlife to adapt and navigate through the urban landscape.  An excerpt from the article is provided below, and a slideshow of M56 and places he wandered during his journey is available here:
For eight weeks, M56 moved relentlessly, guided by a primordial compass. He covered more than 100 miles and climbed from sea level to a mile high. He traversed saw-toothed mountains, navigated busy highways and furtively skirted suburban neighborhoods.

The 20-month-old mountain lion, wearing a tracking collar affixed by UC Davis researchers, left his mother in the foothills of Orange County in early March and struck out on his own.

He traveled south through Camp Pendleton, then turned east toward the high country of eastern San Diego County, which opens on the horizon like a centerfold in a coffee table book.

M56 stunned scientists by becoming the first cougar in a decade of study to cross Interstate 15 — most likely via an underpass where signs point to housing developments that have pushed deep into Southern California's mountain lion habitat. Weeks later, M56 emerged from chaparral-choked wilderness and ducked under Interstate 8 about 45 miles east of San Diego.

Like any juvenile cougar, M56 was searching for food, potential mates and territory unclaimed by another male. Above all, he avoided people. He was learning to survive.

The night of April 24, he moved through a wooded area and stopped a few miles from the Mexican border, just north of Campo. After two months of moving south and east, M56 turned and headed northwest back into the woods.

Maybe it was the light of ranchettes less than a half-mile away. A stray dog might have spooked him. Or maybe he had picked up the scent of another cougar and turned to avoid a fight.

One thing is clear: M56 was about to make his first — and last — mistake.

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