Better Los Angeles and Mumbai, India, share many superlatives as pinnacles of cinema, style, and visitors congestion. However one other similarity lurks within the shadows, most frequently seen at evening strolling silently on 4 paws.
These metropolises are the world’s solely megacities of 10 million-plus folks the place massive felines — mountain lions in a single, leopards within the different — thrive by breeding, looking and sustaining territory inside city boundaries.
Lengthy-term research in each cities have examined how the massive cats prowl via their city jungles and the way folks can finest stay alongside them — classes that could be relevant to extra locations in coming many years.
“Sooner or later, there’s going to be extra cities like this as city areas additional encroach on pure habitats,” mentioned biologist Audra Huffmeyer, who research mountain lions on the College of California, Los Angeles.
Freeways and fragmented habitat
Twenty years in the past, scientists in Los Angeles positioned a monitoring collar on their first cat, a big male mountain lion dubbed P1, that defended a large swath of the Santa Monica Mountains, a coastal vary that lies inside and adjoining to the town.
“P1 was as huge as they get in southern California, about 150 kilos [68 kilograms],” mentioned Seth Riley, a Nationwide Park Service ecologist who was a part of the hassle. “These dominant males are those that breed — they will not tolerate different grownup males of their territory.”
With GPS monitoring and digital camera traps, the scientists adopted the rise and fall of P1’s dynasty for seven years, via a number of mates and litters of kittens.
“2009 was the final time we knew something about P1,” mentioned Riley. “There will need to have been a struggle. We discovered his collar, blood on a rock. And by no means noticed him once more. He was fairly outdated.”
Since then, Riley has helped collar round 100 extra mountain lions in Los Angeles, constructing an unlimited database of lion behaviour that has contributed to understanding how a lot territory the cats want, what they eat (largely deer), how typically they cross paths with folks and what could imperil their future.
As with medieval European kings, the most important menace turned out to be inbreeding.
Dwelling in small territories separated by highways has precipitated some males to mate with daughters and granddaughters, who have been unable to naturally disperse farther away.
That has led to genetic issues similar to fertility points and kinked tails.
“Based mostly on genetic evaluation, we all know that P1 mated with P6, his daughter – that was the primary case we documented of this very shut inbreeding,” mentioned Riley.
Leopards in city landscapes
In Mumbai, one of many world’s most densely populated cities, the leopards are packed in too: about 50 have tailored to an area ideally suited to 20. And but the nocturnal cats additionally maintain largely out of sight.
“As a result of these animals are so secretive, you do not know a lot about them. You possibly can’t simply observe them,” mentioned Vidya Athreya, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in India and a part of a analysis staff that just lately fitted 5 leopards with monitoring collars.
The leopards’ core vary is centred round Sanjay Gandhi Nationwide Park, a protected space boxed on three sides by an urbanised panorama, together with a neighbourhood that’s dwelling to 100,000 folks and practically a dozen leopards.
Researchers tackled particular questions from park managers, similar to how the cats cross busy roads close to the park.
To get the reply, they collared a giant male dubbed Maharaja. They discovered that it walked largely at evening and traversed over 60 kilometres in a few week, from the park in Mumbai to a different close by.
The leopard crossed a busy state freeway, utilizing the identical spot to move, on three events. It additionally crossed a railway monitor.
The trail chosen by Maharaja is close to a brand new freeway and a freight hall underneath development.
Researchers mentioned that realizing the massive cats’ freeway crossing habits will help policymakers make knowledgeable choices about the place to construct animal underpasses to scale back accidents.
Dwelling alongside huge cats
In Los Angeles, long-term mountain lion analysis displaying the hurt of fragmented habitat helped gas a profitable marketing campaign to construct a wildlife crossing bridge over US Route 101, one of many metropolis’s busiest freeways. Development started on April 22.
When it’s completed in three years, the bridge might be lined in native crops and embody particular sound partitions to minimise mild and noise disturbances for nocturnal animals.
It can join Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, enlarging the courting pool for resident mountain lions.
However studying to stay alongside cats is just not solely a matter of infrastructure choices but additionally human selections and training.
When Athreya first began advocating for co-existence with Mumbai’s leopards, she was met with scepticism and pushback from different biologists and policymakers. They thought it could be unimaginable for giant cats to stay alongside folks with out vital friction, or worse.
“The dominant narrative was about battle,” she mentioned. However she helped push the dialog to be about “negotiations, bettering the scenario for each wildlife and folks”.
That isn’t to say residing alongside a giant predator is with out perils. In Mumbai, Purvi Lote noticed her first leopard when she was 5 years outdated, on the porch of a relative’s dwelling.
Terrified, she ran again inside to her mom. However now the 9-year-old says she is just not as afraid of the massive cats.
Like different kids, she doesn’t step outside alone after darkish. Kids and even adults journey in teams at evening, whereas blaring music from their telephones to make sure that leopards will not be stunned.
However essentially the most basic rule, in line with the teen: “While you see a leopard, do not hassle it.”
Avoiding lethal conflicts
Leopards in Mumbai tailored to primarily hunt feral canine that frequent rubbish dumps exterior the forest and largely solely attacked folks when cornered or attacked.
However in 2010, 20 folks in Mumbai died in leopard assaults, mentioned Jagannath Kamble, an official at Mumbai’s protected forest.
The turning level was the realisation that the understaffed forest division couldn’t simply maintain reacting to particular person assaults by capturing and transporting leopards to forests since they returned.
As an alternative, it determined to concentrate on making an attempt to get folks to coexist with the predators.
Officers roped in volunteers, non-government teams and the media for a public training program in 2011.
Since then, fatalities have dropped steadily and nobody has been killed in an assault since 2017.
The final identified sufferer was Muttu Veli’s 4-year-old daughter, Darshini.
Veli, an workplace employee who got here to Mumbai in 1996, mentioned Darshini was enjoying exterior their dwelling in a slum on the fringe of the forest and he or she simply didn’t return dwelling.
Ultimately, her mauled physique was recovered.
“My daughter is gone. She will not come again,” he mentioned.
In Los Angeles, there have been no human deaths attributed to mountain lions however one non-fatal assault on a baby occurred in 2021.
Each cities have realized that making an attempt to seize, kill or relocate the cats is just not the reply.
“Relocation and killing makes battle worse,” mentioned Beth Pratt, California regional director at Nationwide Wildlife Federation. “It is higher to have a secure inhabitants than one the place hierarchies and territories are disrupted.”
Avoidance is the most secure technique, she mentioned.