A landmark, long-term National Park Service study of mountains lions in the Los Angeles area found that the big cats rarely venture into residential neighborhoods, opting instead for forested landscapes of chaparral and sage scrub.

The findings, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management’s final issue of 2021, were made after researchers combed through 15 years of data on pumas in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, according to a news release from NPS.

“We found that it is very rare for mountain lions to venture into neighborhoods,” Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist who co-authored the article and is the lead field scientist on the park service’s project, said in the release. “Overall, only about one percent of locations were actually in urban areas.”

The big cats also tended to shy away from heavily modified and landscaped areas, including golf courses and cemeteries, according to the story. However, while the predators may not have journeyed into areas of urban development, they also didn’t necessarily maintain a far distance either.

“It was interesting to see that in our analysis of habitat selection, mountain lions were consistently closer to urban development than expected by chance,” Sikich said. “This could be because mule deer, their main prey, may be benefitting from being around people.” 

And of course, there have been mountain lion sightings in neighborhoods, from time to time.

The data for this particular study is based off 29 GPS-collared adult and subadult mountain lions whose territories are in the Santa Monica Mountains, Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains and nearby areas, according to the release. More than 128,000 locations were used to estimate each puma’s home range size, how they used the land, and what parts of it they avoided.

“Shrub vegetation types, especially chaparral, were important in terms of habitat use and resource selection, highlighting their value for conserving the species in southern California and beyond,” the release noted.

On average, adult males had home range sizes of about 144 square miles, while adult females averaged 52 square miles — all similar to ones in other areas, according to researchers.

Two notable exceptions to this included the Hollywood mountain lion known as P-22, who has famously prowled Griffith Park for more than a decade now. At just 9 square miles, P-22 has survived in the smallest known home range ever for an adult male puma, the release stated.

The other mountain lion, P-41, resides in the Verdugo Mountains and his home range is 21 square miles.

Though both males were found to have wandered into residential areas more than other big cats studied, the vast majority of their locations — approximately 90% — were still in natural areas, according to the release.

“Interestingly, these two males exhibited strong differences in selection relative to time-of-day that appeared to be responses to human activity,” John Benson, the study’s senior author, said in the release. “When we analyzed selection on an individual basis, we found that these two males altered their behavior towards avoidance of developed and landscaped areas during the day, but towards selection of those areas at night.”

P-22 and P-41 are just two of the more than 100 mountain lions that have been radio-collared and monitored over the past two decades for the large NPS study of pumas in the region.

L.A. is just one of two megacities in the world that is home to the big cats, and biologists have been studying this particular population to see how the animals can survive in the urbanized territory, with its expansive freeway system and sprawling real estate developments.

The population has faced many challenges, including inbreeding, that threaten their long-term survival in the region.