Question: I recently saw video of a young mountain lion that was captured in the Bay Area. It was released back into the wild with a tracking collar of some kind. I think it’s great that biologists are studying lions and other wildlife, but do the collars have to be so big and bulky? I can’t imagine that poor cat can get around in the wild easily with that thing around its neck. (Amy)
Answer: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been putting radio collars on animals for decades now, and we’ve gathered a lot of data and knowledge about how animals react to these devices. Though they may look bulky at first glance, the collars are specially designed to do their job without disrupting the animal’s life.
Collars are made from foam and leather with a circuit board housed in strong metal or plastic. We make sure collars weigh less than five percent of the animal’s body weight. The collar placed on the 68-pound lion captured in the Bay Area weighed just one pound, which is less than one-and-a-half percent of its weight. All collars feature a remote control or timed release mechanism and are typically programmed to fall off before the battery’s charge runs out. For example, if a collar has a battery life of two years, it will likely be programmed to fall off at 22 months. For young animals that haven’t reached full size, we use expandable collars that will stretch as the animal grows.
We know from monitoring collared lions that they are able to reproduce, kill prey, maintain a healthy weight and live full lives. A 10-year-old female collared lion that we’re monitoring recently had her fifth litter of kittens! Collars are important because they allow for real-time tracking when researchers are on the ground and produce stationary data points when monitoring remotely. We are currently monitoring about 80 collared lions in California, and those collars produce valuable data that we use for conservation efforts.
“Hunting” with an airsoft gun?
Question: I have an airsoft rifle with clear marked orange tip and butt stock. I want to try my luck at hunting deer with the airsoft rifle without killing them. Deer have a large body mass so it wouldn’t hurt them. I would have to get much closer with the airsoft rifle than with a real rifle, and that would be a greater challenge. Are there any laws that say I can’t do this in specified hunting areas? Do I need a license given that I’m not taking or killing anything? (Colin)
Answer: An airsoft gun could indeed harm a deer, especially if it were shot in the eye at close range. Shooting deer with an airsoft gun would be considered harassment of animals, prohibited under the California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 251.1. The regulation prohibits any intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior, including breeding, feeding and sheltering. Violation of this code section may be punishable as a misdemeanor. There is an exception outlined in the code for landowners or tenants who are driving off birds or mammals for the purpose of preventing property damage.
Stingray safety tips
Question: In a recent column, you mentioned that a visitor to a California beach is more likely to be injured by a stingray than by a shark. Do these encounters happen in shallow water or only if you’re swimming? What safety tips should I share with my kids? (Yvonne)
Answer: The round stingray (Urolophus halleri) is found throughout California, mostly in sandy areas and more common in warmer southern waters. Stingray injuries generally occur in shallow water, most often while people are wading. These small rays have a barbed spike on their tail that, if stepped on, can flip up and cause a very painful sting.
Stingray stings are indeed common – there were a record 176 people stung in one day at Huntington Beach in 2019! To help avoid being stung while walking in the surf, do the “stingray shuffle,” by shuffling your feet across the bottom rather than stepping. If you are stung, the best first aid is to immerse the wound in very hot (not scalding) water. Be sure to clean it to prevent infection.