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, January 31, 2010

Puma mating behavior: Since setting out our camera grid in Spring 2008 we have captured two photos with both male and female pumas in the same frame. These photos show a rare glimpse into puma mating behavior, which is thought to be some of the only times adult male and female pumas interact. The above photo shows a marked male (LM3) and female (LF1) puma walking along a game trail together beside Cave Creek. This photo was taken in December, when LF1 was still supposed to have kittens, probably indicating that for whatever reason her kittens were no longer with her. Sadly, since this photo was taken only a month before LF1 was killed we can't look forward to incorporating the kittens from this mating event into the study.
This first photo of puma mating behavior we captured in June 2009 (the date-time stamp on the photo is incorrect) also involved LF1 (collared) and probably LM3 as well. The photo was taken before LM3 had been captured, collared, and marked but his characteristic skinny tail is visible in this photo, so it is most likely LM3. Based on this photo, it is possible that LM3 was the father of LF1's kittens we were following this fall.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Puma Kitten Photos: Before the new year we captured our first photos of puma kittens with our camera grid! The above kitten still has a little blue in its eyes and its spots are fading away, so it is probably around 10 months old.
This may be the same kitten that was captured in the first photo, just a day earlier, but it is difficult to tell because its spots are starting to fade and the flash makes them hard to see. This kitten also seems to look little more healthy than the first one, so it may be a sibling.
In the above photo, there is a kitten kicking its heels up and an adult female who is most likely the mother. Based on this series of photos on the same camera over 3 days we know there is probably a resident, uncollared female with at least one 10 month old kitten in our study area. It will be interesting to see if we are able to detect this family group on the cameras over the next few months.

LM3 has already been photographed by 3 of the new 9 cameras we set out, since they started running in November. This 140 lb. male is featured in the below photos and seems to have been in great shape this winter.
Stay tuned for more photos, thanks to the hard work of Harley Shaw and Kate Thibault, we are about to get in our camera grid photos for the months of December and January, and they will be posted soon!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

LF1 Killed: On 27 December, 2009 LF1's collar sent its last coordinates. Yesterday, Dr. Kate Thibault and I went to search the area where the last coordinates were recorded. We detected a mortality signal from the collar approximately 3 miles SE of the last coordinates. Much to our disappointment, we eventually located LF1's bloody collar buried beneath the bank of an arroyo and covered with rocks. Evidently, the person who killed LF1 was afraid to report the killing and return the collar. As LF1 was not on ranch property, it is legal to hunt mountain lions with a permit in New Mexico, and the state offers no protection to our study animals, whoever killed LF1 did not break the law, however unethical and costly their act may have been. LF1 had three young cubs (See previous posts) which will likely starve over the next week to 10 days. LF1 had been collared continuously for 22 months and had produced two litters during that time. She was first collared with the help of Steve Dobrott and Orvel Fletcher in February of 2008 for the Cougar Field Workshop. This fall Furman's Wild Semester class recaptured her and replaced her collar. She was an invaluable study animal. Although recording sources of mortality for mountain lions in this area is a goal of our project, we are disheartened to lose a female with young cubs.