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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Now that we have a collar on one cougar, we know for certain when we are getting a photograph of other individuals. Our collared cougar recently moved north along the Rio Grande. We had thought that it would have passed by our remote camera set in a narrow passage along the river. We checked the camera today to find ANOTHER large male cougar passing along the same spot.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We've been working out a few bugs in our GPS download and decoding system but have finally put together the first map of our cougars movements. The collar records the exact latitude and longitude of the cougar's location three times every 24 hours, once at 4:00 am, 10:00 am, and 7:00 pm. Every three days these coordinates are sent to a satellite and then e-mailed to me and another Turner Endangered Species Fund biologist. The e-mails we receive are coded. We have to take the number codes we receive and decode them, using software from Telonics, Inc., to obtain the latidude and longitude for each of the cougar's locations. I have color coded the locations above using a color gradient from blue to red - earliest to latest. The locations are spread over an area of about 40 miles, north to south. From the data we've received it looks like the cougar has made two kills, or scavenged two carcasses during this period. Soon we will be checking these locations on the ground to see what the cougar has eaten. For the moment the cougar seems to have a long narrow home-range along the Rio Grande.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Here are three more cougar photos from the mountain. The one immediately above the text was taken on the 27th of March in the north central part of the range. The other two were taken in Summer Spring Canyon. We now have 6 cougar photos from this site in Summer Spring Canyon since 9 March. The afternoon photograph is an unusual one. This sort of mid-afternoon movement suggests a kill in the area. However, we have been unable to locate one.

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.