Mountain lions are eating California wild donkeys. Why scientists say this is a good thing
California’s wild herds of four-foot-tall, 250-pound mountain lions are not the only ones in the state. This spring, a group of researchers from the University of California, Davis were examining the genetic make-up of nine so-called “wild donkey” populations in six states to determine how their wild donkey populations would respond to human settlement. The idea: to figure out how to keep these “wild” populations from getting overwhelmed by wild horses.
In the process, the UC Davis group turned up one genetic oddity that set off a debate that’s been going strong for more than a half century: the fact that mountain lions and wild horses have, in many ways, nothing in common.
The UC Davis researchers compared the genetic make-up of the mountain lions and the wild donkeys — and found that mountain lions and wild horses diverged long, long ago, and not from their ancestral common ancestor.
“The mountain lions are one of the largest groups of mammals on the planet that’s never had contact [with horses],” says UC Davis biologist Kevin Klement. “They’re in their territory, they’re eating the food they were meant to eat, and they’re pretty successful. Why would they be any different if humans came along and started bringing in horses?”
But in a series of posts since April, Klement and other researchers have been arguing that mountain lions should be kept out of the horses’ habitat because they will eat them if the two groups continue to intermingle.
There’s more than one way to explain it.
In her book Pachyderm, Susan Cheever argued that horses were “not meant to survive in these wild settings.” She writes, “The very nature of the horse… the very nature of horse-culture itself… precludes that the horse be a wild animal in