Southern California's Mountain Lions Become International Diplomats

mountain lion photo

Photo via angel_malachite via Flickr CC

A decade-long study of Southern California mountain lions by The Nature Conservancy has yielded a new first. A young lion that goes by the handle M53 found a way to cross a human-made barrier that could have international consequences. When M53 managed to successfully cross the US-Mexico boarder, he inadvertently became somewhat of a diplomat for other lions, and is helping scientists at The Nature Conservancy protect the wildlife corridors the animals need to survive. A major threat to a species population isn't necessarily habitat loss but habitat fragmentation -- the division of their home by roads and other human-made obstacles that are usually deadly. This is the case with mountain lions whose broad ranges have been carved up by human developments, and even an international boarder.

But M53 has shown that while the controversy rages for which humans can and can't cross the US-Mexico boarder, mountain lions need to have a free pass in order to find enough habitat and food. M53 is part of a larger study that includes over 50 lions fitted with tracking collars since 2001. As the lions hunt for suitable habitat away from humans, habitat that is increasingly rare, scientists are able to watch and see what areas are in need of conservation focus. Turns out, wildlife corridors on the boarder are going to be important.

The Nature Conservancy reports, "Over the course of eight months, M53's international jaunt took him across a 200-square-mile area. Along the way, he roamed across numerous public and private conservation lands, including Bureau of Land Management holdings in California and a national park in Mexico... M53 also journeyed through a number of properties threatened by development and made several dangerous highway crossings. And that creates a key conservation challenge: making sure that human land use doesn't sever the habitat connections needed by wildlife."

M53 is highlighting the challenge of conservationists, who have to somehow keep enough pieces of habitat strung together and protected from humans to give species like mountain lions room to roam. The wildlife corridor used by M53 is threatened by development. But hopefully by showing how important it is to maintain such crossings, M53's international travels will benefit other lions, and other species.

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