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.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

LM4 - new male puma captured on the Ladder!

We captured LM4 on March 3, 2012 off of a female elk (Cervus elaphus) kill he made on a farm field planted for wildlife.  The kill was discovered in the morning and we were able to get set up for capture by early evening.  He returned to the kill site and was captured by 10PM.  

 LM4 is a healthy 4-5 year old puma weighing ~ 50kg (110lbs).  We use photos of the teeth to age the animal based on incisor wear and the amount of gum line recession observed on the canines.
 Since LM3's death (taken by a hunter in January) we have not picked up much male puma activity on our camera grid.  It is likely that LM4 is taking advantage of the newly vacant home range of LM3, which is prime puma real estate situated around the Animas and Seco Creek drainages.
The above photo shows him waking up from immobilization and taking his first few unsteady steps toward freedom.  LM4 was fitted with a Lotek Globalstar GPS collar which will allow us to monitor his nightly movements.  As with all of our GPS collared pumas we will use his GPS locations to estimate home range, investigate kill sites to determine prey selection, and further develop a method to estimate puma population density using puma photo frequency observed on our remote camera grid.  
One surprise we received the next day after checking the remote camera that was set up on the original kill site was a photo of LF8 at the same kill and at LM4's capture site!  Unfortunately she seemed to be more wary than him and we did not recapture her on the same night.  It is likely that they were together for a mating event and he was sharing his kill with her.  We have been tracking LF8 since her original capture on March 4, 2011 and would have liked the opportunity to replace her GPS collar.  

Monday, June 04, 2012

LM3 Recaptured again! - Team Puma 2011 was rewarded with a puma capture at the end of last summer after a week of trap nights.  We recaptured 140 lb LM3 for the third year in a row.  This big male has been a constant presence in our camera array and in our study area for the past three years.  Unfortunately we learned that he had been killed by a hunter in January of 2012.  We were able to recover the collar which will complete his GPS dataset making it the longest running dataset for a single puma we have collected so far.  

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Team Puma 2011 is back on the Ladder Ranch and has hit the ground running! On May 31st we checked all 25 grid cameras by running 2 separate camera teams. As always we captured some interesting stuff, below are some of the most interesting photos from this latest camera check:

A bobcat (Lynx rufus) checks out the camera. Our subjects rarely smile or even look at the cameras for their photos, so this is a rare capture of this bobcat almost saying "cheese".

This male black bear (Ursus americanus) took a break in front of one of our cameras to scratch his back.

Our first photo capturing puma predation shows LF8 with a skunk. The kills we've checked out for her over the winter and spring indicate that she might be specializing on skunks. She has certainly killed more skunks than we have found with our other pumas.

Since first detecting him in December of last year, LM1 has remained a nearly constant present in our camera array. We've been able to pick out his red ear tag in most of his photos and hope to recapture him sometime this summer or fall and fit him with another GPS collar.

This photo is probably capturing a mating event between LM3 and an unknown female. In the photo we can see LM3's ear tag, but cannot make out an ear tag on the accompanying female in the background (look close!). It is possible that she could be LF6 or her daughter LF7, both of whom have ear tags, but no GPS collar at this point. Again, we hope to recapture LM3 and replace his malfunctioning GPS collar, and we are also hoping to recapture LF6 and/or LF7 to fit them with GPS collars.


Monday, December 06, 2010

LM1 is Back!!! - The above photo shows the first evidence of LM1 in the study area since the summer of 2009. LM1 was the first male collared for the project by Harley Shaw and Orville Fletcher in March 2008. He was re-collared in April 2009 by Matthew McCollister. Unfortunately his collar fell off unexpectedly in May of 2009 and since then the last evidence we had of him was a photo taken by the camera array after his collar had already fallen off, but he was still ear- tagged (below).
So far we've picked up 3 separate photos of LM1 at 2 different camera locations all along the Animas Creek drainage since he has revisited the study area. The two below photos are taken of his RIGHT side, so it is difficult to detect his unique red ear tag in his LEFT ear, but if you zoom into the photos you can barely see a hint of red color on his far ear. If LM1 remains in the study area we will hopefully continue to capture him with cameras, and if we're lucky maybe he'll stick around to be recaptured during our next collaring efforts.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

LM3 Recaptured! - On June 20th Team Puma recaptured the prodigal LM3 and was able to exchange his non-functioning GPS collar for a brand new Northstar GPS collar, courtesy of Mike Abernathy and Carolyn Galceran donated to the project in memory of Owen and Milda Abernathy. The above photo features all of this years Ladder Ranch Team Puma Recruits, from the left: Furman sophomore MC Coppage, freshman Alex Viere, professor Dr. Travis Perry (also Furman alumnus), alumnus Megan Pitman (getting her masters from Clemson on this project), and sophomore Michael Jiang.

The above photo shows LM3 once he has been darted by Megan Pitman with a CO2 powered tranquilization "gun". About 3 minutes after being darted he surrendered to the effects of the the tranquilization drugs and appears to be asleep.

LM3's peleage showed evidence of recent fighting, most likely an encounter with another male puma in the area. Other than these scars, he appeared in fine condition, weighing in at 138 lbs., and handled the capture procedure very well. Based on his GPS movements, he was most likely on a kill only 2 nights after being captured!

Furman undergraduates had the opportunity to help collect valuable measurement data on LM3. The data collection process ran very smoothly, although rapidly, as once the animal is tractable under tranquilization we have only about 30-45 minutes to take the necessary measurements, photos, and fit the GPS collar.

LM3's canine's measured in at 30 mm for the upper and 24 mm for the lower. Detailed photos were also taken of his teeth for the purpose of aging him based on the wear and discoloration of the teeth.

After all of the data was collected and his new GPS collar was fitted, LM3 was monitored closely to ensure his health and safety while coming out of the tranquilization.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hidden Dangers of "Cougar Scene Investigation" aka "C.S.I.": While visiting kill sites and random points all over the ranch Team Puma has encountered quite a diversity of species so far this sumer, some more friendly than others. The above photos shows Furman Junior Michael Jiang "taming" one of the many local herps, a lively Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister). This guy was caught while displaying for a female at a recent LM2 Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) kill. The below photos are from this kill and show the little evidence left after the puma and scavengers were finished with it.

Catching herps is a favorite pastime of the 2010 Team Puma recruits. Below Furman Junior M.C. Coppage poses with a charismatic Round Tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma modestum) . Showing her true talent as our resident "Lizard Whisperer" M.C. is also featured hypnotizing a brightly colored male Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) caught just outside of our bunkhouse on the ranch.

While collecting Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and Elk (Cervus elaphus) pellets for measuring decomposition rates and estimating population sizes on the ranch we've found ourselves in close proximity to some of the resident ranch mule deer. The below photos are of deer in the fields our bunkhouse looks out over and the surrounding shady areas.

We also had the opportunity to observe a matriarchal herd of American Bison (Bison bison) over lunch one day when they surprised us by gradually surrounding our vehicle at a waterhole. The photo-op was great, but we were a bit disturbed by some of the bison's hygienic practices (see below video).

Stay-tuned for more Team Puma adventures in "C.S.I. - New Mexico Edition" as we head into an exciting summer of pellet counts, vegetation survey, kill sites, and lizard catching.

Friday, May 14, 2010

LM2 Kill Update - Today the Summer 2010 recruits for Team Puma checked out our first kills of the field season and it was a very exciting day! As evidence of just how hard life can be for young pumas, today we found the first case of intraspecific predation by LM2 on an 8 to 10 month old unknown kitten. LM2 made the kill on April 30th, stayed on it for 3 days and consumed about 90% of the carcass. Although infanticide seems harsh it is a well documented behavior of pumas and other felid species such as the African Lion. LM2's most recent kill, a 3-5 yr. old mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) of unknown sex, was made 11 days ago on May 3rd. Furman undergraduates Michael Jiang and M.C. Coppage pose below at the cache site for the first kill visited this summer. LM2 only stayed on this kill for 2 days, which is an unusually short amount of time for a large prey species like mule deer. We suspect the kill was scavenged by a black bear (Ursus americanus) due to bear sign found at the kill. The rumen had been eaten which is characteristic of bears and unusual for pumas. Three fresh bear scats were also found around the kill. The below photo shows a bear scat in the foreground and the puma kill in the background (look for the deer hoof). While LM2 may be sending puma kittens running, it seems he is still capable of being chased off a kill by a bear.