03 July 2022
Los Angeles, California, and Mumbai, India, are both famous for movies, clothing, and traffic. But the two large cities are similar in another way: large cats live in and around them.
Los Angeles and Mumbai are the world's only major cities where large cats— mountain lions in one, leopards in the other — live. But Audra Huffmeyer, a biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, predicted, "In the future, there's going to be more cities like this, as urban areas further encroach on natural habitats."
Twenty years ago, scientists in Los Angeles placed a tracking collar on a large male mountain lion that was from Santa Monica Mountains, an area next to the city. They named the big cat P1.
With GPS and camera traps, the scientists followed P1 for seven years. Seth Riley of the National Park Service was part of the effort. Riley said 2009 was the last time they learned about P1.
"There must have been a fight. We found his collar, blood on a rock. And never saw him again. He was reasonably old," Riley said.
Since then, Riley has helped put collars on around 100 more mountain lions in Los Angeles. The big cats in the Los Angeles area have not caused any human deaths but recorded one attack on a child in 2021.
The biggest threat to mountain lions turns out to be inbreeding – mating between members of the same family. Living in small territories separated by highways has caused some males to mate with daughters and granddaughters. That has led to genetic problems such as fertility issues and unusual tails.
In Mumbai, one of the world's most densely populated cities, about 50 leopards have lived in a space suited for 20. Yet the big cats keep mostly out of sight.
Vidya Athreya is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in India. "Because these animals are so secretive, you don't know much about them. You can't just observe them," Athreya said.
The leopards' main area is centered around Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The protected area is surrounded on three sides by people, including an area that is home to 100,000 people and around ten leopards.
Leopards in Mumbai mainly hunted wild dogs that go to garbage dumps outside the forest. They mostly attacked people when cornered or attacked. But in 2010, 20 people in Mumbai died in leopard attacks, said Jagannath Kamble, an official at Mumbai's protected forest.
How to deal with big cats?
Huffmeyer, who studies mountain lions, said, "If we want to keep these large carnivores around on the planet, we have to learn to live with them."
Both cities have learned that trying to capture, kill or move the cats away from their habitats is not the answer.
In Mumbai, officials involved volunteers, nongovernmental groups and the media in a public education program in 2011. Since then, deaths have dropped, and no one has been killed in a leopard attack since 2017.
In Los Angeles, research showing the harm caused by limited territories helped fuel a campaign to build a wildlife crossing bridge over U.S. Route 101, one of the city's busiest freeways.
The building began on April 22. When it is finished in three years, the bridge will be covered in native plants and include special sound walls to reduce light and noise for the passing animals. It will connect the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, enlarging the area for mountain lions.
Beth Pratt, a California director at National Wildlife Federation, said, "Relocation and killing make conflict worse." Avoidance is the safest strategy, she said.
"These big cats are shy — they tend to avoid human contact as much as they can. They're really extreme introverts of the animal kingdom."
I'm John Russell.
Christina Larson and Aniruddha Ghosal reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
encroach -- v. to gradually take or begin to use or affect something that belongs to someone else or that someone else is using — usually + on or upon
habitat -- n. the place or type of place where a plant or animal naturally or normally lives or grows
track -- v. to follow and try to find (an animal) by looking for its tracks and other signs that show where it has gone
collar – n. a band of leather, plastic, etc., worn around an animal's neck
carnivore – n. an animal that eats meat
relocate - v. o move to a new place
shy -- adj. tending to avoid something because of nervousness, fear, dislike, etc.
introvert – n. a shy person : a quiet person who does not find it easy to talk to other people