The Los Angeles Times reports that a cougar is suspecting in killing one of the LA Zoo’s koalas earlier this month.
LA is home a famous cougar called P-22. This cat lives in Griffith Park, and it’s generally thought his diet is mostly raccoon and coyote.
But it is thought that the cat leaped over a 9-foot fence to kill a female koala named Killarney. For obvious reasons, koalas have never been cougar-food, so P-22 would have been the first of his kind to try hunting one.
There is no hard evidence that P-22 did the deed, but trail cameras revealed that he was stalking near the zoo the night before Killarney was killed.
The evidence is solely circumstantial, but the chances of coyote or bobcat getting over a 9-foot fence and carrying off a Koala are pretty remote.
This story reminds me of what happened to one of Jim Dutchers wolves that were kept in a large enclosure in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. One of them spent a lot of time by herself, and one day she turned up missing. Scratch marks on a tree inside the enclosure revealed that a cougar had come in and killed the wolf, but then the rest of the pack discovered the cat and treed it, eventually chasing it off the premises. A cougar will take on one wolf but not six.
Cougars once lived over much of the the United States. Although incorrectly called “mountain lions,” they are ecologically equivalent of leopards in the Old World. They are out of the same lineage that gave us the cheetah and the jaguarundi, which is actually now classified with the cougar in the genus Puma now.
As these cats return to their native range, conflicts are bound to happen. In LA, one would have assumed that the biggest problem with this cat would have that he started carrying off dogs, but I’ve not heard of any cases of him doing that.
But if he took out a koala, it’s very likely that he’s in need of better food sources than raccoons and coyotes.
And maybe it is time for LA’s cougar to find a new home.
Koalas now. Labradors next.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that situation.