Study Questions Whether Hunting Mountain Lion Hurts Mule Deer Population

Apr 11, 2019

A new study conducted by a global wild cat conservation organization finds that a mountain lions' prey differs by age.

The conservation group, Panthera, has been studying mountain lions in northwest Wyoming for the past 17 years. But in the past five years, they started tracking independent animals to try to find everything they ate.

Dr. Mark Elbroch, Puma Director for Panthera, said it turns out mountain lions eat a variety of different species throughout their lifetime. When lions are younger, they eat smaller animals, like beavers or birds. Then around three years old, they transition to deer and eventually learn how to kill elk.

"Bigger prey is more dangerous and tackling an animal that is eight times your size requires a different kind of skill set than tackling something that is only a fraction of your weight," said Elbroch.

Elbroch said this debunks some wildlife managers' belief that mountain lion hunts help increases the population of mule deer.

"What you inevitably do is reduce the age of that population," said Elbroch. "So, you end up with a population of young mountain lions that ironically may become a population that preferentially looks for and kills mule deer over any other prey."

Elbroch said he hopes this research will engage wildlife managers and researchers to conduct similar research to see if this plays out in different ecosystems.