Friday, February 19, 2016

Big Cat Chow?

Feb 29, 2016 | By THE SCRAPBOOK

Where's my overpass?

In California news, activists are angling for a new “wildlife overpass" to allow mountain lions to cross L.A.'s busy 101 Freeway. This would help boost the population and health of the big cats by making them more mobile and thus diversifying the leonine gene pool. The cost is estimated to be $38 million, which given the inexorable inflation afflicting such projects means the final bill would more likely be somewhere north of $100 million.

Still, some will say that's a small price to pay for the joy of living with wildlife in one's backyard. But it isn't the only price. There's the cost—so far not yet quantified, as best The Scrapbook can tell—in swallowed-up terriers and tabbies, Scotties and Siamese. Though mountain lions are said to find deer particularly toothsome (and goodness knows there's plenty of venison on the hoof in California's hills and mountains), it seems pumas find dogs and housecats tastier (or at least easier) prey.

Mountain lions are "Specially Protected Mammals" and normally can't lawfully be killed. But if a mountain lion makes a nuisance of itself, ranchers or homeowners can petition for permission to have it hunted down. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife last year "necropsied" the mountain lions killed under these "depredation permits," and found the predators hadn't dined much on deer after all. Only 5 percent of the big cats bagged in California in 2015 were found to have had any deer in their stomachs. By contrast, 52 percent of the lions were found to have been feasting on "domestic animals," which is to say, they had been bellying up to the old Spot, Snowball, Babe, and Lamb Chop smorgasbord.

The fault, if there is one, is obviously with California pet-owners, who need to take appropriate precautions. Advice on how to coexist with the big cats is readily available. For example, the state's Fish and Wildlife folks suggest that, if you have livestock such as goats or sheep, you round them up every night in "sturdy, covered shelters." They also have this word to the wise: "Don't leave small children or pets outside unattended." Their advice for those who have an unlucky encounter with a lion: "Do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children." The guidance does not specify how one can wave one's arms, throw rocks, and pick up children all at the same time.

The most practical suggestion, though one of little use to unlucky poodles and Pekingese: "If attacked, fight back." Now, what was that about an overpass to help the mountain lions get around?


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