Mountain lions are eating California wild donkeys. Why scientists say this is a good thing
Pete Peterson has seen hundreds of mountain lions in his lifetime. He says watching the big cats eat donkeys seems weird, but he doesn’t see a problem.
“I’ve seen mountain lions eat raccoons, coyotes and deer. I’ve seen them eat birds, squirrels, rabbits. I’ve seen them eat snakes. And of course they’ve always eat each other,” Peterson says.
Peterson is on the staff of the Mountain Lion Research Program at the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy) in San Francisco.
The organization has been studying mountain lions for the last three decades, and Peterson has been working on his PhD in ecology at San Diego State University. He says he often sees them in the wild, in particular the large cats.
While some wildlife activists have called for the species to be more closely watched, Peterson believes the organization’s findings are more helpful.
“[Lion attacks on other animals] are a lot more than one animal attacking another animal,” he says. “The animals are going after each other, and that’s where the problem is.”
Cal Academy has been studying the Mountain Lion Research Program since the early 1980’s, when researchers began to note a decline in the species.
The problem was so bad that, in the 1990’s, the mountain lions were considered endangered and their numbers in the state had dropped from an estimated 1.5 million to just 700.
That’s when Peterson saw a documentary about the lions, and decided to join the research effort.
For the next few decades, he says he and his colleagues worked to figure out the cause of the decline and what could be done to reverse it.
“We looked for reasons for decline and didn’t find an obvious cause,” Peterson says. “We looked at the population and were able to see something strange.”
That’s when their work came to a sudden halt