We are conducting surveys, monitoring, and research on cougars (puma, mountain lion) on the Ladder Ranch in south-central New Mexico. Here, cougars are of particular interest given their effects on state-endangered desert bighorn sheep and other valuable big game. These projects are also resources for training and education, most notably through the Cougar Field Workshop.
On Thursday the 3rd of May we picked up the cougar's radio collar signal a few miles south of the site where it was collared. We could tell by the signal interval that the collar was still on the cougar and that the cougar was alive. These collars have three different on-board systems: a VHF system, a GPS coordinate collecting system, and a GPS download system. The VHF system sends out a radio signal that can be picked up by a reciever as a series of beeps. Three different beep patterns communicate various types of information. If the beeps are sent at a rate of 50 per minute, this means that the cougar is alive, or at least that the collar has moved within the last 6 hours. If the beeps come at a rate of 100 per minute this means that the collar has been motionless for the last 6 hours. This indicates that either the cougar removed the collar or the cougar is dead. The third pattern indicates the status of the on-board GPS components. If the beeps come at a rate of 35 per minute, this means that the last attempt to download GPS coordinates was unsuccessful. The GPS coordinate collecting system on this particular collar uses satellites to obtain latitude and longitude coordinates for the cougar's position three times every 24 hours. We have so far received 2 days of GPS coordinates and are in the process of decoding the downloaded data and converting it to latitude and longitude.