Mountain lions are going west, according to a seven-year study conducted by the University of Nevada-Reno, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife. The findings, recently published in the online edition of Molecular Ecology, show that the animals are heading for California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, bolstering the state population to a figure between 4,000 and 6,000 compared to Nevada’s 3,000. The researchers used genetics to track migration patterns across multiple family groups and generations of cougars.
What’s the Big Idea?
The findings run counter to researchers’ expectations, since the assumption was that the mountain lions would move eastward into Nevada areas that opened up when other animals were killed by hunters. However, the Sierra Nevada may simply be a better habitat with greater numbers and varieties of prey. Researcher Alyson Andreasen says, “It’s just conjecture at this point, but that’s what we think might be going on.” There’s also the fact that hunting of cougars is permitted in Nevada but not in California.