Handout photo of a mountain lion cornered in Santa Monica, California (Photo : Reuters)
A recently released seven-year study shows Nevada mountain lions are migrating west toward California.
The study, conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, used genetics to identity distinct populations of mountain lions in Nevada's Great Basin, according to RGC.com.
Like Us on Facebook
The article says the main goal of the study was to determine which areas serve as places animals move to at a greater rate than those that leave, and which places serve as population "sources," or places from which animals disperse to other locations at a greater rate.
Scientists analyzed lion DNA from tissue samples taken from more than 730 lions in both states. Then they were able to trace lion movements over multiple generations.
Cougars are hunted in Nevada, but not California. It was commonly thought that more of the "highly territorial" predators would migrate east into Nevada, moving into habitats made when lions were killed by hunters.
"We expected they would move in the direction of open territory. We found exactly the opposite to be the case," said Alyson Andreasen, a UNR doctoral student and a lead researcher in the study, the article reports. "There was actually more movement from the Great Basin into the Sierra. They were going more from east to west than west to east, which was kind of a surprise to everybody."
The article suggests that the animals are drawn to California because of the lush Sierra and the availability of more prey.
"It may just be more attractive to move into the Sierra Nevada," Andreasen said. "It's just conjecture at this point, but that's what we think might be going on."
Co-researcher Jon Beckmann said the study now gives them a better picture of how lions are moving on the terrain.
"We predicted we would have more lions coming in from California. We were surprised the Sierra itself was a net importer," Beckmann said.
A 2-year-old male cougar was captured wandering into a Reno casino in late August. Guests saw the lion attempting to enter through the casino's revolving door. When it failed to do so, it hid under an outdoor stage, where it was tranquilized by wildlife officials.
The research conjectures the lion was traveling east-to-west, from Nevada into the Sierra.
It was given a satellite tracking collar and released back into the wild. It was tracked moving 60 miles heading in the direction of Mono Lake in California.