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, November 29, 2009

With 5 freshly collared mountain lions (a total of 8 individually marked), and 9 new cameras added to our camera grid (giving us a total of 25 cameras now!) this months camera check was VERY exciting! From the 16 original cameras and one of the new cameras we captured 6 Puma photos over the last month. Two uncollared females, one photo of LF1, two photos of LM3, and one photo of LF6 (already shown in the last blog post).

The above uncollared female mountain lion represents one of the only two uncollared lion photos we captured this month. We expect that now with 8 Pumas marked in the study area we will be seeing fewer unmarked lions. However, this lion may be one of our marked animals now since this photos was taken on October 31st, before LF4, LF5, and LF6 were collared or eartagged.

This uncollared female is not one of our marked lions, since she has no eartag, and all of our lion capturing and processing was completed by 10 AM on Novemer 10th, the day this photo was taken. So even with 8 marked lions potentially moving through the camera grid, there is still at least one uncollared female in the study area.

This is the fourth photo of LF1 we have captured since she was recollared on October 1st. The photo is a little blurry, but the bright yellow eartag in her left ear makes her easily identifiable.

The above photo is the first we have captured of LM3 since he was collared on November 4th. Based on the two photos we have of him already, it seems he is the "skinny tailed male" mountain lion that we had been picking up often in the camera grid. Because male lions travel significantly more than female lions on a nightly basis, we should expect to have more opportunities to capture our males lions in the camera grid.

This really nice photo of LM3 was taken by one of our 9 new grid cameras. The new cameras have expanded our camera study area from 32 square km (with 16 cameras) to 50 square km (with 25 cameras) and will hopefully increase our puma photo capture rate.

We rarely get photos with two different species in them, and this photo featuring a skunk being stalked by a coyote is a first. Unfortunately we didn't get any follow up photos to see how it turned out for the skunk, but chances are the coyote left the encounter a little more fragrant than he arrived.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Even though we were not able to collar and keep up with LF6 using GPS technology, she has already shown up in our camera grid and in a few interesting photos from LM3's latest kill site. In the above photo from Camera Grid 03 we can see her eartag. This photo lets us know that LF6 seems to be doing fine after being captured, and represents the first evidence of our newly marked lions from the camera grid.

But the camera grid isn't the only place we've detected LF6 so far. An infrared remote digital camera set on a recent LM3 kill made on 11/17/2009 recorded photos of LF6 sharing the kill with LM3 on the night of 11/19/2009. The below photos show LM3 feeding on what we expect to be a kill he made, and allowing LF6 to feed on his kill as well.

LM3 shows up to the kill first. This evidence as well as GPS locations putting him on this kill since 11/17/2009 lead us to think that he made this kill and is sharing it with LF6 rather than the other way around.
LF6, notice the black and yellow eartag in her left ear, shows up to the kill later in the evening, and there is not yet any evidence that LM3 is still at the kill.

LF6's stomach still looks enlarged, probably indicating that she is still pregnant and has not yet had her litter of kittens since we collared her on 11/10/2009.

Soon after LF6 arrives at the kill, LM3 shows back up in the photos indicating that he remained on the kill and allowed LF6 to join him.

We did not get any photos of LF6 and LM3 feeding at the same time on the kill. However LM3's above posture while LF6 is still feeding on his kill in the background shows that they really are sharing the kill. LM3's tolerance of LF6 may be the result of LM3 being the father of the litter of kittens she is still carrying.

Based on these photos, it seems as if LM3 and LF6 stayed on the kill together for the rest of the night until they left the kill around 4:40 AM and 5:06 AM respectively on the morning of 11/20/2009. This shared kill behavior is very interesting because sharing of kills between male and female mountain lions is something that is thought to be a rare occurrence, only known to happen occasionally during mating. In this case a pregnant female (LF6), who is not in estrus and is unable to mate successfully right now, was found to be sharing a kill made by one of our collared male lions (LM3).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Later in the morning on November 10th, after spending most of the night processing and collaring the female lion group, we were surprised to find the above female lion in Matthew McCollister's snare line. This female's age was estimated at 3-4 years, she weighed 90 lbs., and was pregnant at the time of capture. In the photo below you can see her distended stomach, probably indicating that she is going to have her litter in the next month. Her nipples were also enlarged and looked as if she has given birth to at least one litter before this one. We were not able to put a collar on this new female, LF6, but we did eartag her and will hopefully start to see photos of her, and maybe her new kittens, showing up in the camera grid.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the early morning of November 10th, Matthew McCollister and Megan Pitman deployed our 5th Northstar GPS collar on a 6-8 yr. old female puma caught in a group of three female pumas (one was already collared LF3) feeding on a single kill.

Because multiple sets of tracks were found in Seco Canyon when LF3 was snared there we set up remote digital cameras on her elk calf kill made on November 7th to determine if she was traveling and sharing kills with other lions who we might also be able to capture and collar. The above photos from the night of November 8th indicated that LF3 was feeding with at least 2 uncollared lions. We were able to capture all three lions in one night by splitting up the kill and making three cubby snare sets. As expected the lions returned to their kill on the night of the 9th, and had all been snared by the time we showed back up at 12AM.

The above photo shows all three female lions captured from this kill. LF3 (top) was previously collared at the end of October, and the GPS points from her collar made this capture possible. LF4 (bottom) received our last collar because she is an older 90 lb. female living in the area. LF5 (middle) is probably a yearling lion, weighing only 50 lbs, and she was marked with an eartag. It is suspected that these three cats are related where LF4 may be the mother of LF3 (her 2yr+ old offspring) and LF5 (her yearling offspring). We do not yet know how these three lions are related, but hopefully blood samples collected during processing will be able to determine their relatedness. By following LF3 and LF4’s kill sites closely we will be able to document their interactions and determine if they continue to share kills between themselves and LF5, something thought to be a very rare occurrence among adult mountain lions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today with the help of Brian Jansen, Matthew McCollister, Steve Dobrott, and Bill Mader we captured and collared LM3! This 140 lb. male mountain lion, recognized by his unusually skinny tail, has been photographed several times in our camera grid. We have been looking forward to capturing this male because we know he regularly travels through our remote camera grid.