People make pumas eat and run

Pumas don’t like hanging around human dwellings. That’s good news for people. But that aversion makes the big cats kill more often when they live near high-density housing, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That behavior may affect local prey populations and the reproductive success of the pumas.

After a kill, mountain lions usually spend several days close to the carcass, eating their fill, explained Justine Smith, a Ph.D. candidate in the UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Department, and lead author on the study. “When humans are around, the animals leave their kill more often. That’s a lot of time and energy to give up, especially for females raising cubs,” she said.

The researchers followed 30 pumas that were outfitted with GPS monitoring collars, as part of the Santa Cruz Puma Project, led by Christopher Wilmers, associate professor of environmental studies. They found that females living in the highest housing density areas killed 36 percent more deer each year than females in more pristine habitats.

“We might be optimistic about results that show pumas can hunt successfully in a developed landscape,” said Smith. “But we know it takes substantial energy to hunt, and some of these females are killing a lot more.”

In a previous study, led by Terrie Williams, UCSC professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, researchers calculated the caloric cost of various hunting strategies–waiting, stalking, or pouncing. The results, published in Science, showed pumas save their high-calorie burning efforts for the bigger prey payoffs.