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March 13, 2018 > Protecting pumas in the bay

Protecting pumas in the bay

By Robbie Finley

With all the asphalt, concrete, and glass that blankets the Silicon Valley, it is easy to not notice the natural land that still stretches throughout the Bay Area. In that landscape dwell a multitude of beautiful animals, threatened by the bayÕs ever-expanding footprint. Mountain lions and other members of the puma genus in the bay have a guardian angel in the nonprofit Bay Area Puma Project (BAPP).

Formed in 2007, BAPP seeks to educate the local population, promote a better co-existence, and conduct ongoing research of the local pumas. ÒBAPP was formed to protect healthy populations of mountain lions in the Bay Area with an innovative model employing research, education and outreach to engage local communities and regional stakeholders,Ó said Zara McDonald, the executive director of Mill Valley-based Felidae Conservation Fund, a parent organization to BAPP. BAPP is a collaboration between the fund and its scientific advisors.

WeÕve all seen the reports on the news of mountain lions caught on security cameras, prowling in the night through suburbs, or read about hikers that had a too-close encounter in one of the bayÕs many parks and trails. But little is ever said in these reports about how vital pumas are to our ecosystem. Pumas span the Americas and are known by many names. According to, a whopping 46 percent of California is a suitable habitat for a puma population. Yet, with so much land available, population estimates are grim, with only 4,000-6,000 pumas estimated in the entire state, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. These awe-inspiring animals need every bit of help we can give them to survive and thrive in the future. One look at BAPPÕs puma sighting map demonstrates that there is no corner of the bay that isnÕt home to pumas. With such a pronounced presence, pumas need every bit of protection possible to avoid extinction; they are constantly at risk from habitat loss and poaching.

ThatÕs where BAPP steps in. With more than 300 volunteers, and more than 100 of them actively involved in BAPPÕs activities, our puma population has a fighting chance. Volunteers are the life force of the organization, with expertise in a variety of fields that all help BAPPÕs mission. ÒWe welcome volunteers of relatable skill sets to assist our core group of five team members,Ó McDonald said. BAPPÕs website demonstrates the skills that volunteers bring to the project, as operations such as the trail cameras are volunteer-driven. ÒWe have built a data bank of over one million images and video of pumas and other wildlife from remote sensing cameras placed strategically throughout the Bay Area. Using this data, we have contributed to the growing body of research on pumas that supports the benefits of co-existence with pumas,Ó McDonald explained.

With the scientific research and its resulting data gathered by BAPPÕs team, they are able to share their data with the scientific community and enhance a growing understanding of pumas and their natural habitats. BAPPÕs educational outreach is a significant part of its mission, with big results. ÒWe have taught our biodiversity class to more than 30,000 students, and we have presented on pumas to more than 30,000 community members during more than 300 community presentations and scientific conferences and environmental meetings,Ó McDonald said, adding, ÒOur greatest success has been to apply what we are learning with our research in Bay Area communities and school education programs, which have helped local residents understand the importance of a balanced ecosystem, and the wild felidsÕ role in a robust natural system.Ó

BAPP even has a game! On the Apple and Android app stores, search for Puma Wild, the exciting educational game that lets players experience life firsthand as a puma trying to survive in a virtual world threatened by humans and social development.

Though BAPPÕs volunteers are passionate and motivated, a project such as this cannot continue its vital mission without financial donations. There are many ways to support the Bay Area Puma Project and local pumas, and to participate in their conservation, McDonald said. Donations help BAPP continue their work in research, conservation, and with the public. They have received funding from a variety of sources, including private and public foundations, universities, corporations, National Geographic Society, Disney Conservation Fund, Big Cat Rescue, and local zoos.

BAPP has established relationships and collaborated with a whoÕs who of conservation groups in the bay, such as cities, regional parks, other nonprofits. ÒIn all conservation efforts, transparency and collaboration ultimately impact ecosystem management and biodiversity. We attempt to collaborate broadly to achieve positive conservation impact. Conservation cannot take place in isolation, so the importance of community participation in stewardship of the San Francisco Bay AreaÕs wildland-urban edge cannot be overstated,Ó McDonald said.

ÒWe have brought the puma to the forefront of the discussion with communities and have provided a different picture such that people can understand a data driven, science-based reality of puma presence and behavior in the SF Bay Area,Ó McDonald said. She continued, ÒWe are changing the narrative on pumas through BAPP. Acceptance and awareness is growing.Ó

For more information on BAPP, please visit, and for more about the Felidae Conservation Fund, visit

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