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, June 25, 2008

PINOS ALTOS -- A mountain lion that may have killed a Pinos Altos man was captured in a snare and killed Wednesday morning.

The lion was an average-sized adult male weighing approximately 125 pounds. It had four bullet holes in it that appeared to be from buckshot. A Department of Game and Fish officer had shot and wounded a lion with buckshot June 19 near the home of 55-year-old Robert Nawojski.

Nawojski was killed by a mountain lion June 17 or 18 near his small mobile home in a wooded area of Pinos Altos north of Silver City. His partially eaten and buried body was found June 20 near a rock ledge about 60 yards from his home where he liked to bathe and shave.

The lion was caught in a U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services snare about a half-mile from the rock ledge where Nawojski was believed to have been attacked. The lion was killed and its body will be taken to the New Mexico State Police Crime Lab for a necropsy.

Wildlife Services agents and Department of Game and Fish officers with hounds were still searching for a second lion reported to be in the area. "But we're confident the lion we caught last night was the one wounded by our officer Friday night," Department Officer Leon Redman said.

Monday, June 23, 2008


PINOS ALTOS, N.M. -- New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officers and U.S.D.A. Wildlife Services agents used dogs and snares this week in a continuing effort to find or catch a mountain lion that killed and apparently ate parts of a Pinos Altos man last week.

Medical investigators confirmed Monday that Robert Nawojski, 55, died from injuries sustained in a mountain lion attack near his home in a wooded area of Pinos Altos north of Silver City. Nawojski, who lived alone in a small mobile home, was believed to have been attacked by the lion late Tuesday or early Wednesday last week. Searchers found his body June 20, a day after his brother reported him missing.

It was determined that Nawojski, who according to relatives like to bathe and shave on a rock ledge about 60 yards from his house, was attacked just below that ledge. The lion then apparently dragged the body a short distance, and then ate and buried parts of it.

A Department of Game and Fish officer initially was called to the scene Thursday night when a search team looking for Nawojski found a mountain lion near the trailer home. The officer shot and wounded the lion after it would not leave the yard. After the lion ran off, the officer discovered the door to the house open, the water running, and Nawojski's false teeth on the table.

Rick Winslow, the Department's large carnivore biologist, said fatal attacks on humans by mountain lions are tragic and very uncommon. It has been decades since one occurred in New Mexico. He said such attacks typically are by young, hungry animals looking to establish their own territory.

"Attacks by wildlife may become more frequent as our growing population expands into the urban-wildland interface," Winslow said. "New Mexico has a healthy population of mountain lions and people who live around them must learn to take precautions and avoid dangerous encounters."

Nawojski became only the second human fatality involving a mountain lion attack in recent New Mexico history. In January 1974, an 8-year-old boy from Arroyo Seco was killed by an emaciated 47-pound female lion. The boy and his 7-year-old half brother were playing about a half-mile from their home when they were attacked by the lion. The lion was later killed by a neighbor.

Winslow estimated there are 2,000 to 3,000 mountain lions in New Mexico, including a population in the Silver City - Pinos Altos area.

If you live in lion country

Here are some tips to protect yourself, your family and pets:

• Watch the kids: Closely supervise children and make sure they are home before dusk and not outside before dawn.

• No hiding places: Trim or remove vegetation around the house, and close off open spaces beneath porches and decks so lions won't have places to hide.

• Lighting: Install outdoor lighting so you can see a lion if one is present.

• No prey: Don't feed wildlife, especially deer, which are lions' favorite prey.

If you encounter a lion:

• Don’t run! If you come across a bear or a lion, stay calm and slowly back away while continuing to face the animal and avoiding direct eye contact. Pick up small children so they don’t panic and run, which can trigger the animals’ instinct to chase.

• Travel in groups: There is strength in numbers, and most bears and lions will respect that and leave the area.

• Make yourself big: Hold out your arms and spread your jacket so the bear or lion doesn’t consider you its prey. Don’t kneel or bend over, which could trigger an attack.

• Back away: If the animal has not seen you, slowly back away while making noise so it knows you are there. If it still approaches, stand tall, yell, rattle pots and pans or whistle. If you are on a trail, step off on the downhill side and give the animal room to pass.

• Don’t mess with mama: Never, ever, get between a mother and her cubs or kittens.

• Never offer food: Offering food to a bear is inviting it to stick around. When it’s done with your friendly offering, it may consider having you for dessert.

• If you are attacked: Fight back aggressively, using anything you can reach as a weapon. Do not play dead.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Using data from sightings and remote camera photos, Megan has mapped what we know of LF2's home range. 4 of the 6 locations are from a single camera on Animas Creek. This camera loacation has photographed all of our collared cougars as well as at least one uncollared cougar. It seems to be a real hotspot of cougar activity.

LM1 has also traveled a long distance since his last kill (also an elk calf). He is now the furthest north that he has been since he was collared.

After making her last kill (an elk calf) LF1 has moved quite long distance in almost a semi-circle. She is now further north and west than she has been at anytime since she was collared. The last 6 locations are nearly on top of each other. In southern New Mexico, cougar's exhibit a peak in reproduction around August and September. There seems to be a steady build up with successively higher numbers of litters in June and then July. It is unusual for a healthy wild female cougar to go for very long without cubs. As we near the peak season for cubs, we are increasingly expectant that we will find LF1 with a litter.

The Ladder Ranch seems to have a healthy bear population. Bears are known to scavenge cougar kills. It appears that one of LM1's recent meals was taken over by a bear within one day of LM1 catching it. The term for animals stealing food from each other is "kleptoparasitism". When bears steal cougar prey, we might expect the cougars to increase the rate at which they take prey. By this mechanism, bears may have an indirect effect on prey populations.

Monday, June 16, 2008

LF1 has moved down Animas Creek and then southeast out of the drainage since moving from her last kill site. This is the furthest she has moved from the area just north of Bell Mountain in a few weeks now.

Looks like AM1 has a kill site on the river. Last year an investigation of this same site revealed a beaver lodge.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Last weekend we completed our investigation of all potential cache sites. Above is a map representing all prey items that we have located so far for both LM1 and LF1. There is a clear difference in the distribution of elk and deer cache sites. This results primarily from the different home ranges of LM1 and LF1. At least so far, LM1 is taking more elk whereas LF1 is taking more deer. Both cougars are averaging one large prey item every 11 days. If this rate continues each will take about 33 large prey items per year. *The southeastern most javelina cache site was made by LF2. The predation event was witnessed by one of the Ladder Ranch employees and investigated by Orvel Fletcher and Megan Pitman.

Friday, June 13, 2008

At the end of May LF1 was "captured" on one of our remote cameras near one of her prey cache sites. In the hotter dryer regions of the southwest cougar often concentrate their predation around water sources as this is where the prey is also concentrated.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Here we have an interesting series of photos. In the top photo our collared cougar LF2 is investigating a scent mark, known as a scrape. Approximately, 2 weeks later we see an uncollared male cougar in our study area refreshing this scent mark.