A unique visitor was spotted this week in the island community of Montecito, California – home to the ultra-rich and famous including Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan.
he visitor – a mountain lion – was seen roaming the streets on the east end of town, his eyes gleaming in the night light of the suburban enclave.
Mountain lions are common in this area as Montecito sits right on the edge of the Los Padres National Forest, which is home to a large community of big cats. And seeing a mountain lion so close to the forest isn’t particularly surprising, said John Benson, an ecologist at the University of Nebraska.
But it’s possible that mountain lion prey like deer could continue to roam in search of water as intense drought continues to ravage the state — and cats could follow.
“If the drought serves to bring deer and lions closer to humans, I think there’s certainly potential that there could be more interactions and more potential for conflict,” says Dr. benson
Mountain lions – also called cougars, panthers, cougars or katamounts – count themselves among the indigenous people of southern California.
The cats can be found in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara and Ventura, as well as in the Santa Monica Mountains, which stretch along the coast near Malibu.
A mountain lion named P22 even lives in Griffith Park, a wild corner of the Hollywood Hills in urban Los Angeles. So this recent sighting in Montecito – east of Santa Barbara – is not particularly surprising.
“As far as a mountain lion in Montecito, that’s not at all unusual,” Tim Daly, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told The Independent.
The community sits right up against the mountains, and while filming a lion might be startling, it’s to be expected, he adds.
A representative for the Duke and Duchess did not comment on the recent cat sighting.
While the lions typically remain hidden in more remote areas, drought can push them out of their comfort zones in search of food.
dr Benson says a study he worked on in the Santa Monica mountains showed that while most mountain lion attacks on deer occurred outside of developed areas, they were closer than expected.
One possible explanation is that in these developed areas, the deer are drawn to the water sources, bringing them closer to humans, he adds. Whether drought is behind the specific recent sighting in Montecito, however, is hard to say.
California, like much of the western U.S., remains in a state of intense drought – a continuation of the decades-long climate crisis-triggered “mega-drought” that has paralyzed the region.
According to the US government’s Drought Monitor, over 97 percent of the state is experiencing “severe drought.” A study this year found that the past few decades in the US Southwest have been the driest in at least 1,200 years.
Droughts are likely to become both more frequent and more intense as the climate crisis warms the planet and makes many areas drier, a UN climate science panel has said.
Some fine mountain lions have been spotted in California in recent years. For example, a cub migrated to a school in the Bay Area earlier this summer, and NBC Bay Area reported last year that there were increased sightings in the area.
Mr Daly says there have been a few incidents involving mountain lions, pets or even children in the past, noting that people can take precautions by keeping small children around during a hike. He also suggests keeping their pets inside at night — as well as tidying up and securing food and trash outside to discourage wildlife visits.
However, mountain lion attacks on humans remain a rare occurrence. Since 1986, California has documented only 21 mountain lion attacks on humans, and only three of them have been fatal. There could also be another reason people are spotting more mountain lions – more cameras.
“With the explosion of cameras on homes and businesses, we’re seeing a lot more of this activity just because we’re likely to be capturing a lot more of this activity on camera,” says Mr. Daly.
Mountain lions live across the Americas, from southern Argentina to western Canada. They also once lived in eastern North America, although all but a small population of them have been wiped out in southern Florida.
Some conservationists are working to ensure they don’t disappear from additional areas, including Southern California.
In addition to the drought, big cats in the Los Angeles area are at risk of habitat fragmentation as neighborhoods, homes and freeways slice up the landscape — making it difficult for the notoriously widespread animals to traverse the hills and valleys.
Ecologists are particularly concerned about the small population in the Santa Monica Mountains, isolated from the rest of the state by the sea and development in the valleys north of downtown Los Angeles.
With such isolation from other cats, Santa Monica cats are at risk of inbreeding, which can later lead to genetic problems. Some mountain lions have also died crossing the highway.
In response, officials are now building a massive deer trail, complete with plants and natural landscaping, over Highway 101 just outside of Los Angeles. It will allow the big cats to travel from the hills into the wider forest of Los Padres.
https://www.independent.ie/news/why-celebrity-neighbourhood-of-montecito-home-to-harry-meghan-oprah-and-more-could-see-more-mountain-lion-visitors-41906973.html Why the famed neighborhood of Montecito — home to Harry, Meghan, Oprah and more — could see more mountain lion visitors