Richard Collins: The perfect Christmas present for the wildlife enthusiast

P-22, a six-year-old male mountain-lion living in Southern California, became a minor celebrity when he was photographed walking past an American cultural icon; the famous Hollywood sign, with its 15m high lettering, in the Santa Monica Mountains. He has also sheltered under a house and broken into Los Angeles Zoo where he may have dismembered a koala, writes Richard Collins. 

Richard Collins: The perfect Christmas present for the wildlife enthusiast

‘P-22’ is, of course, the code on this cat’s GPS collar, the information from which enabled a map of his movements to be drawn.

It, and a brief account of his adventures, appears in a book just published. Where Animals Go, tracking wildlife with technology in 50 maps and graphics, is the work of geographer James Cheshire and designer Oliver Uberti, both of National Geographic.

Lions tigers leopards and jaguars are known as the ‘big cats’. Their larynxes enable them to roar.

The mountain-lion, the fourth largest cat in the world, can’t roar.

The biggest of the ‘small cats’, a distant relative of your household tabby, has more names than any other feline; ‘cougar’ ‘puma’ and ‘panther’ are the more familiar ones.

The piece by Cheshire and Ubertis on P-22 is no animal equivalent of Hello magazine trivia.

It focuses on a problem faced by this cat, and its feline community; the cougars have become marooned on a man-made island.

They are cut off from the rest of the world, not by water but by motorways.

Only one of 33 GPS-tagged individuals, young male ‘P-56’, is known to have crossed one of the area’s eight-lane freeways.

Fifteen days after traversing Interstate 15, however, P-56 was killed for attacking a farmer’s sheep.

Not so long ago, a mountain-lion venturing close to human habitation was shot on sight. Nowadays, a more relaxed attitude to these top predators prevails.

“When people see P-22, they treat him like a celebrity” a local vet is quoted as saying.

Big cats are allowed to survive, and are welcome to breed, near human habitation. However, there’s a problem.

The local cougar gene pool is small; inputs from outside the area are needed to prevent inbreeding.

In 2003, the Transportation Department converted an underpass of State Route 91 into a wildlife corridor but the cats refused to use it.

Insufficient cover in the approaches to the pass may have deterred them; they could be seen at eye-level by drivers on the motorway.

It’s now proposed to build a ‘vegetated bridge’ over Interstate 15 which, it’s hoped, will solve the visibility problem.

The mountain-lion story is just one of 37 accounts of animal movement from all over the world, featured in Where Animals Go.

No coffee-table wildlife-porn photos of glamorous creatures appear in this atlas, just exquisitely-drawn maps.

The wanderings of Slave, a young male wolf tagged near Trieste, Italy, in July 2011, are so extensive that a centrefold page was needed to do justice to them.

Slave travelled 1,000km in four months. On December 29 of that year he swam across the icy 280m-wide Drava river.

He has since found a mate, settled down, and raised at least 16 cubs.

Not all of the journeys featured extend over continents and national boundaries. Some are of the parish pump variety.

Radio tags were fitted to 3,000 songbirds at Oxford’s’ Whitham Wood. Sixty-five monitoring stations recorded 91,576 ‘feeding events’ by 1,904 individuals.

“Why would a tit opt to jostle around a busy feeder when it could have one to itself” a researcher asked.

“Are humans any different? We’ll queue for an hour outside a packed restaurant before taking a risk on its empty neighbour” he said.

Where Animals Go is well written and entertaining, an ideal, if slightly ‘off-the-wall’, Christmas present for the wildlife enthusiast.

James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti. Where Animals Go, tracking wildlife with technology in 50 maps and graphics. Particular Books, 2016. €20 hardback

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