Amazing video of Bay Area mountain lion, kittens in den prompts challenge to keep cubs safe

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Researchers who are trying to teach bay area residents how to live safely in mountain lion territory have released rare video of eleven day old cubs inside a cave with their mother. The den is in a secret spot in the Glen Ellen/Kenwood area of Sonoma County.

The mother lion, known to the scientists at P-1, has been wearing a GPS collar to track her movements for the past two years. During that time she has given birth to three litters of kittens, but this is first time lead scientist Quinton Martins actually managed to hide a video camera inside her den.

Martins is an expert lion tracker. He waited until P-1's G-P-S showed she was away hunting, then went looking for her den. Martins said it was well hidden and he had to climb into holes, under roots and through poison ivy before he finally found the two tiny cubs snuggled into a cave.

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This amazing video of a mountain lion mother and her cubs inside their den is giving new hope for the species' survival in Sonoma County.

Martins buried a camera inside and made a quick exit. Video from the camera shows, when P-1 returned, she sniffed the area near the camera, but went immediately to her cubs without appearing concerned.

Martins runs "Living with Lions" for the non-profit Audubon Canyon Ranch. So far his team has put G-P-S collars on nine wild mountain lions in Sonoma County, tracking the apex predators as they share their native habitat with humans.

There was a major setback last fall when the Nunns Fire burned down the mountain lion project's office at the Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen. Thousands of dollars of high tech equipment was lost. But the computer data was saved, and private donations got the program back in action in just a few months.

The lions collared for the research project all survived the fire, but they still face serious threats, largely from people trying to protect livestock.

If a mountain lion kills livestock or a pet, California law allows the owner to get a depredation permit to have the lion killed and that is taking a serious toll on local lions. None of P-1's kittens from her earlier two litters are still alive. Three cubs died from natural causes. Two others made it to young adulthood, but were killed after they killed livestock. Martins and his team are hoping to stop that cycle with the new litter.

They say a key to saving lions is protecting livestock. Sheep, goats and other small animals "need to be locked in a predator proof enclosure at night" Martins warned.

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He says most lion issues in southern Sonoma County happen at hobby farms with just a few animals that are not adequately protected from lions. Martins pointed out one property that actually has a small barn, but the owners still left goats outside at night and one was killed by a lion. After that the goat owners started putting the animals in the barn at night. Video from a camera Martins placed in the yard shows the mountain lion did come back, but he gave up quickly because the goats were safely inside.

If small animals are out at night, Natalie Jones with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue told us "it's not a question of if they are going to get taken by a mountain lion or predator of some type, it's a question of when."

The "Living with Lions" project is partnering with the Wildlife Rescue to do more community education and outreach. The rescue center has a demonstration barnyard and fencing set up to teach predator proofing methods.

The service is free at their center in Petaluma. An expert will also come give you a personal consultation on your property, but there will likely be a fee.

Experts say killing mountain lions does not actually assure your animals will be safe. Lions generally protect their territory and keep other lions out. So when you remove one lion "all you are going to do is have another mountain lion move into that area, and sometimes, it might even be more than one mountain lion" according to Martins.

Martins research shows the male lion that fathered P-1's latest litter has a territory that covers 17,000 separate private properties. Killing that lion would upset the delicate balance of the eco-system over a wide area. Lions are top predators that also keep the population of deer and other lesser predators in check.

Now the lion research team is challenging the local community to help this new litter survive by protecting livestock and pets. The cubs have a good start with a very dedicated mother.

The video on Martins hidden camera showed she stayed with the cubs for 28 straight hours before going out for a break to take care of her own needs.

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