California mountain lions are devouring California pets at a surprising rate, according to California Fish and Wildlife study not yet released to the general public.

Mountain lions have not been hunted in California for 26 years, but 107 lions were recently killed under special depredation permits such as a recent case we featured here.

An article in SFGate, which obtained access to the study, detailed the findings. The stomach contents of 83 cougars were examined during the study. Fifty-two percent of the lions were found to have eaten cats, dogs and other domestic animals. Only five percent had eaten deer, normally a cougar’s favorite prey.

California’s ban on hunting cougars was a political, rather than a scientific decision. A statewide ballot measure – Proposition 117 – enacted the ban in 1990. Although mountain lions provided the “poster child” for the campaign, the measure’s actual goal was to provide $30 million in bond money for public acquisition of private land for habitat conservation. The mountain lion ban – and debate of the size and impact of the state’s lion population — has been controversial ever since.

Although pets are certainly at risk wherever mountain lions roam, lions killed under depredation permits are by definition different from the population as a whole.  State law requires CDFW to issue a permit if there is proof that a lion has preyed on or threatened domestic animals.  So the animals studied were killed because of proximity to human activity, and likely do not reflect the habits of the cougar population as a whole.

California Fish and Wildlife is holding public meetings around the state focused on coyote and predator awareness. The Department’s Keep Me Wild campaign offers this helpful advice:  “Do not approach a mountain lion, don’t leave small children or pets outdoors unattended, and look around, above and behind you for wild animals.”  Seriously.