Los Angeles and Mumbai, India, share many excellences as the pinnacle of cinema, fashion and traffic congestion. But another similarity lurks in the shadows, which are often seen walking quietly at night on four toes.
These metropolises are the only megacities in the world of more than 10 million where large areas – mountain lions in one, leopards in the other – thrive while breeding, hunting and maintaining territory within urban limits.
Long-term studies in both cities have examined how big cats move through their urban forests, and how people can live with them – lessons that may apply to more places in the coming decades.
“In the future, there are going to be more cities like this, as urban areas further encroach on natural habitats,” said biologist Audra Huffmeyer, who studies mountain lions at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If we want to keep these big carnivores on the planet, we have to learn to live with them.”
freeways and fragmented housing
Twenty years ago, Los Angeles scientists placed a tracking collar on their first cat, a large male mountain lion called P1, which defends a wide swath of the Santa Monica Mountains, a coastal range that runs through the city. Located within and around.
“P1 was as big as about 150 pounds in Southern California, which was part of the effort,” said National Park Service ecologist Seth Riley. “These dominant males are the ones that breed – they won’t tolerate other adult males in their territory.”
With GPS tracking and camera traps, scientists followed the rise and fall of P1’s lineage through multiple mates and kittens for seven years. “2009 was the last time we knew anything about P1,” Riley said. “There should have been a fight. We found his collar, blood on a rock. and never saw him again. He was very old.”
Since then, Riley has helped collar nearly 100 more mountain lions in Los Angeles, building a vast database of lion behavior that has contributed to the understanding of how much territory cats require, what they eat (mostly deer), how often do they cross paths with people and whether that could put their future at risk.
As in medieval European monarchs, the greatest danger was inbreeding. Living in small areas separated by highways, some males have mate with daughters and granddaughters who were not naturally able to spread far. This causes genetic problems such as fertility problems and kinked tails.
“Based on genetic analysis, we know that P1 mated with P6, their daughter – this was the first case we documented this very close inbreeding,” Riley said.
leopard in urban landscape
In Mumbai, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, leopards are also packed: about 50 have adapted to a location ideally suited to 20. And yet even the cats of the night are mostly out of sight.
“Since these animals are so secretive, you don’t know much about them. You can’t just observe them,” said Vidya Atreya, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in India and part of a research team that recently conducted the tracking. Five leopards were fitted with the collar.
The leopard’s core range is centered around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a protected area surrounded on three sides by an urbanized landscape, including a neighborhood that is home to 100,000 people and about a dozen leopards.
The researchers faced specific questions from park managers, such as how cats cross busy streets near parks.
To get an answer, he collared a big man named Maharaja. They found that it ran mostly at night and covered a distance of 60 kilometers (37 mi) in about a week, from the park in Mumbai to another pass. The leopard crossed a busy state highway, on three occasions, to pass through the same spot. It also crossed a railway track.
The route chosen by the Maharaja is near a new highway and a goods corridor under construction. Knowing the highway crossing habits of big cats could help policymakers make informed decisions about building animal underpasses to reduce accidents, the researchers said.
living with big cats
In Los Angeles, long-term mountain lion research showing fragmented habitat loss helped fuel a successful campaign to build a wildlife crossing bridge over U.S. Route 101, one of the city’s busiest freeways. construction started on 22 April.
When it is completed in three years, the bridge will be covered with native plants and include special sound walls to reduce disturbance of light and noise for nocturnal animals. it will connect The Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills enlarge the dating pool for resident mountain lions.
But learning to live with cats is not only a matter of infrastructure decisions, but also human choice and education.
When Athreya first began advocating coexistence with Mumbai’s leopards, she faced skepticism and backlash from other biologists and policy makers. They thought it would be impossible for big cats to live with people without significant friction, or worse.
“The major narrative was about conflict,” she said. But she helped propel the conversation about “conversations, improving the situation for both wildlife and people.”
This does not mean that living with a large predator is without danger. In Mumbai, Purvi Lotte saw her first leopard at the age of 5 on the porch of a relative’s house. Frightened, she ran back to her mother. But now the 9-year-old says that she is not so afraid of big cats.
Like other kids, she doesn’t step outside alone after dark. Children and even adults travel in groups at night while playing music from their telephones to ensure that the leopards are not surprised. But the most basic rule, according to the youngster: “When you see a leopard, don’t bother it.”
avoid deadly conflicts
Leopards in Mumbai are mainly adapted to hunt wild dogs that often dump garbage outside the forest and mostly attack or attack people. But in 2010, a leopard attack in Mumbai killed 20 people, said Jagannath Kamble, an official of Mumbai’s protected forest.
The turning point was the realization that the forest department could not respond to individual attacks by capturing and taking them into the forests since they returned. Instead, he decided to focus on trying to get people to coexist with predators.
Officials involved volunteers, non-governmental groups and the media for a public education program in 2011. Since then, there has been a steady decline in the death rate and no one has been killed in any attack since 2017.
The last known victim was Muttu Veli’s 4-year-old daughter Darshini. Veli, an office worker who came to Mumbai in 1996, said that Darshini was playing outside their house in a slum on the edge of the forest and she did not return home. Eventually his mutilated body was recovered.
“My daughter is gone. She will not return,” he said.
In Los Angeles, there have been no human deaths due to mountain lions, but there is a non-lethal attack. Happened on a child in 2021.
Both cities have learned that trying to capture, kill or relocate cats is not the answer.
“The relocation and killing make the conflict worse,” said Beth Pratt, California regional director for the National Wildlife Federation. “It is better to have a stable population, where hierarchies and territories are constrained.”
Avoidance is the safest strategy, she said. “These big cats are shy – they avoid human contact as much as they can. They are actually highly introverted to the animal kingdom.”
Larsen reported from Washington and Ghoshal from Mumbai, India.
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