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.

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.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Above is a graph summarizing the prey selection data we have collected for 6 gps collared mountain lions over the previous 2 years. (This does not represent all the kills actually made by all 6 mountain lions over the 24 month period). There are some biases in these data. First, most of these six mountain lions were only collared for a few months of the year, which may introduce seasonal bias. Second, many smaller prey items, such as rabbits, rats, birds, and foxes are may be completely consumed, leaving little or nothing for us to find at the kill site. Despite these biases in the data, there is a clear pattern in our data which supports the findings of other studies; the primary prey of mountain lions is mule deer. What will be more interesting to discover, as we collect more data, is whether or not there are distinct differences in male and female mountain lion diets and whether there are seasonal flucutations in the diet.