Paul Houghtaling of the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project holds upright the head of a tranquilized young male mountain lion found in an aqueduct near downtown Santa Cruz, California.Dan Coyro / Santa Cruz Sentinel / AP
Technology also plays a role. The prevalence of video cameras has resulted in more documented sightings, Hughan added.
Kevin Brennan, a wildlife biologist with the agency in Escondido, said that bears and mountain lions have actually been showing up in urban communities for decades. “It happens when we have fires, and it happens when we don’t have fires,” Brennan said. “The public at large makes a lot of associations that scientists can’t make … The drought has nothing to do with it.”
Wild animals have always ventured into urban territory, where they find a smorgasbord of ready-made food in trash cans and picnic areas.
“In many cases, resources along the edge of the suburbs are far more reliable than resources out in the wild, because every year people are going to irrigate their fruit trees. Every year they’re going to irrigate their lawns,” said Tom Scott, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist. “Animals are quick to use resources that are available.”
So much so that the black phoebe bird, which once inhabited remote areas near streams, is now ubiquitous in suburbs, where it finds plenty of water in swimming pools, Scott said.