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Mountain Lion/Human Interactions
Project Overview
Lion observations and encounters with humans have increased dramatically in the western United States over the past ten years. This has raised the concern of wildlife experts at the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) about how to maintain the presence of these important predators while at the same time protecting visitor safety.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Leslie, GCNP wildlife biologist & project leader

Mountain lions are the sole remaining large predator in the Southwest (aside from reintroduction efforts for the Mexican gray wolf in the eastern portion of the state) and, as such, play a unique role in parks' natural systems. They are the ecoregion's only remaining natural predators of adult mule deer, elk, desert bighorn sheep, and, recently, javelina. This project has begun to document movement patterns of mountain lions associated in and adjacent to areas of human use at Grand Canyon National Park.

Although seldom seen by visitors, simply the presence of large carnivores contributes to the richness of visitor experience. However, recent increase in the frequency of attacks on humans by mountain lions has led to human safety concerns in areas where people concentrate in mountain lion habitat. Changes in the distribution and abundance of prey, and in mountain lion hunting behavior, as well as movement of humans into areas traditionally occupied by mountain lions, have been advanced as factors contributing to increased human-mountain lion incidents.

The increase in the frequency of mountain lions attacking humans has heightened concerns of managers in areas where mountain lions and people coexist. Although mountain lions are present throughout Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado Plateau, little is known of how they use the region's parks and monuments. With increased pressure from hunting, poaching, and habitat reduction, parks and monuments are believed to be not only refugia for these large carnivores, but also to serve as reservoirs for their populations as they disperse into these areas of high pressure. Knowing how and when mountain lions use these parks and park habitat, especially those areas frequented by park visitors, may provide the information needed to reduce the potential for mountain lion-human interactions.

Obtaining information on wild animal populations has been a long-standing logistical problem. However, the ability to detect and analyze animal sign in the wild through non-invasive techniques is becoming an integral part of wildlife research and management. Particularly with carnivores, which are generally secretive and costly to capture and study, DNA samples from field-collected hair, tissue, and feces can yield insights into the ecology of difficult-to-study creatures such as mountain lions. A three-year study of mountain lions within Grand Canyon National Park is proving that DNA sampling and analysis of genotypes is an effective, low-cost method for detecting and identifying individual mountain lions, kinship, and minimum population estimates.

This study is beginning to provide a framework for other parks, particularly those on the Colorado Plateau (many of which have little or no budget to collect this information) with similar habitat types, to obtain information regarding their mountain lion populations in order to preserve an integral component of the ecosystem while providing for visitor safety. Information already gathered at Grand Canyon is providing insight into mountain lion populations, distribution, and kinship.

Funding for this multi-year project has been provided by the Summerlee Foundation, the Arizona Community Foundation, the Norcross Foundation, and several other private donors. If you would like to help support mountain lion research at Grand Canyon National Park, just click HERE.

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For additional information please contact us at:

The Grand Canyon National Park Foundation
625 N. Beaver Street, Flagstaff, Arizona 86001
(928) 774-1760,

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