Researchers collar Sonoma Valley mountain lion for tracking purposes

In a first, Audubon Canyon Ranch biologists trapped a female mountain lion Wednesday night in Sonoma Valley and outfitted the sedated animal with a GPS collar before letting her back into the wild so they could track her movements.

The delicate operation is part of a groundbreaking effort to protect what remains of the Wine Country habitat where lions and other creatures live. The study is being led by Quinton Martins, a South African biologist whose experience includes tracking leopards in remote corners of the world.

Martins and a team that included two veterinarians were alerted Wednesday at about 8 p.m. that a mountain lion they’d previously spotted on a wildlife camera had entered a cage filled with road-kill deer.

The trap was set on the grounds of Glen Oaks Ranch, a 234-acre Sonoma Land Trust property that borders ACR’s Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen.

The research team reached the trapped lion in less than 10 minutes and sedated the big cat using a blow pipe, according to Wendy Coy, a spokeswoman for ACR.

The biologists fitted the lion with the GPS collar and also collected blood, tissue and other biological samples. The cat, named P1 for “Puma 1,” is estimated at between 8 and 10 years old. She weighed about 86 pounds and was over 6 feet long from her nose to the tip of her tail.

About an hour after the capture, the lion was moved to another location and observed walking away under her own power. By Thursday morning, the GPS showed she had wandered to higher elevations on the Glen Oaks Ranch property.

“What an exciting moment for the project,” ACR Executive Director John Petersen said in a statement, noting that this marks the first mountain lion to be captured and fitted with a GPS collar under a Scientific Collection permit issued to ACR by California Department of Fish and Wildlife in July. ”This project is going to yield invaluable data for conservation efforts not just locally, throughout California.”

Researchers are hoping to trap and collar more lions. Martins, who has an office at Bouverie Preserve, can observe the lions’ movements on his laptop. The GPS system provides eight location readings over a 24-hour period.

A typical adult mountain lion can roam across 200 square miles. Researchers hope to answer once and for all how many mountain lions roam Wine Country. Martins said previously the 1,000-square-mile territory included in the study could support as many as 50 adult lions under optimal conditions.

Of particular focus is the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which links about 10,000 acres of protected land running west to east from Sonoma Mountain to the Mayacmas mountains. In addition to mountain lions, deer, coyotes, bobcats, rare species that include steelhead trout, northern spotted owls and California red-legged frogs live on or frequent the corridor.

Vineyards, subdivisions, urban growth and other development have encroached on the wilderness. Only about half of the 10,000 acres within the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor are protected from development. In one place on the eastern side of Highway 12 near Bouverie Preserve, the corridor is a mere three-quarters of a mile wide.

ACR is working with the Sonoma Land Trust and other groups to protect open space within that wildlife corridor, including the site of what is now the Sonoma Developmental Center, which is slated for closure.

The nonprofit organization was founded in 1962 by L. Martin Griffin to protect from development a large heronry on Bolinas Lagoon near Stinson Beach. Today, the organization oversees four nature preserves in Marin, Sonoma and Lake counties that, combined, total more than 5,000 acres.

ACR officials view the mountain lion program as a natural outgrowth of their pioneering studies of winged predators. The geographic area included in the lion study runs from Highway 101 east across Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacmas range to Highway 29 in Napa County, and to northeast Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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