Pumas on the Edge: The Effects of Human Activity and Development

A puma family above the nighttime lights of San Jose (Photo courtesy of Chris Fust)

Post submitted by Max Allen of the Santa Cruz Puma Project.

A puma family above the nighttime lights of San Jose (Photo courtesy of Chris Fust)

I currently work on the Santa Cruz Puma Project in California, studying pumas that live in the highly fragmented and human-dominated Santa Cruz Mountains. Pumas who live here must navigate through a landscape that is a mosaic of different levels of human activity and housing density alongside open spaces, entailing risk during run-ins with humans. The northeastern border of our study area is Silicon Valley, an area of a high density of humans and development, but human growth and development is accelerating throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. Having previously studied pumas in a remote area in northern California, I am often surprised by the juxtaposition of a large carnivore living so close to so many people in our study area.

GPS locations of 20 pumas in our study area between Santa Cruz and San Jose (Figure courtesy of Wilmers et al. 2013)

As you might expect, our research shows that pumas avoid areas with the most development (Wilmers et al. 2013), and areas with the most human activity (Wang et al. 2015). Juveniles seem to have the hardest time. When kittens are around 1.5 years old, they disperse, meaning that they leave their mother’s home range in search of territory of their own. Generally, the high quality territories are already occupied by adult resident pumas, and since juveniles are not ready to control prime habitat, they are often pushed by the resident animals into marginal, suboptimal habitat. In our case, this means areas closer to higher levels of human activity and development.

The yearling pumas in this video will disperse from their mother soon, and likely live in sub-optimal habitat —> Read More