Bay Area Puma Project

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The Bay Area Puma Project is the first major study of pumas (also called mountain lions or cougars) in the south San Francisco Bay Area.[1] Launched in May 2008 in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the study is currently underway (in late 2009) with nine cats being tracked using GPS-accelerometer collars. This project is the first phase of a projected ten-year conservation effort to preserve and protect the Bay Area puma population. The study is being conducted by researchers at UC Santa Cruz in partnership with Felidae Conservation Fund, with coordination from the California Department of Fish and Game and California State Parks.[2]

Background[edit]

The puma is a close neighbor of many communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. In recent years, the rapid pace of development in the region has caused settled areas to expand into puma territory, resulting in more frequent human-puma encounters and creating serious challenges for habitat connectivity and the sustainability of the puma population. Moreover, because pumas are the top predator in the local ecosystem, a decline in the health of the puma population would affect the health of many other species and that of the ecosystem as a whole. In order to successfully address these challenges, greater understanding about the puma population is needed to enable more informed dialog among decision makers, so that the issues can be resolved effectively and healthy co-existence can be achieved between human communities and puma populations.[2][3][4]

Research objectives[edit]

The study is designed to reveal basic facts about the Bay Area's puma population, such as range, density, movement, feeding patterns, and the effects of roads and other human development. In addition, a novel feature of the study is an accelerometer on the collar that records precise data on activity and movement, measuring the acceleration behind each footstep. This feature will offer new insights into puma behavior and physiology, especially regarding interactions with habitat, prey, humans, and residential communities.[4]

Conservation goals[edit]

The information and insights gained from this study will help scientists and the public to better understand the critical role that pumas play in the region's natural ecosystem. The findings will be the basis for outreach and education programs that will help convince local communities and regional decision makers of the need to preserve habitats, stave off further extinctions, and promote healthy ways for humans to co-exist with wild cats.[2]

Specific conservations goals that will be supported by the study include:

  • Securing habitat connectivity - The Santa Cruz Mountains are currently almost completely cut off from other ecosystems and are at serious risk of becoming a habitat island. If this happens, the wildlife of the region will lose genetic diversity and the health of the ecosystem will inexorably decline. To prevent this, the results from the research has been requested by the California Department of Transportation to determine the highest priority locations where wildlife overpasses and corridors might be built.
  • Minimizing human-wildcat conflict - Reports of encounters between humans and pumas in the Santa Cruz region are on the rise. The causes of this increase, as well as the steps the community should take to reduce the likelihood of conflict, need to be well understood. The results of the study will be used by conservation organizations to support outreach programs designed to educate the community about how to live and coexist in puma habitat.
  • Preserving puma habitats - As human development increasingly encroaches on puma habitats, the need to secure blocks of habitat for permanent preservation becomes more critical to the survival of the population. A key long-term objective of the study is to identify the geographical areas most essential to the health of the puma population, so that conservation organizations can more effectively raise public awareness and support to influence land use decisions that will have a major impact on the puma population.

See also[edit]

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