Just a big kitty…

Here is 26M gettin’ down in front of one of our cameras. We stitched together this series of photos showing him rolling around on the ground, just like your cat on the front walk.

25F Comes back to the Puma Project!

On February 3, puma project researcher Paul Houghtaling went looking for 25F again. In May 2012, 25F’s collar stopped sending GPS data, and we have been attempting to get her a new collar ever since. After many previous attempts to track down 25f, Paul went back to Wilder Ranch, 25F’s home turf, to try again. He was able to locate a deer kill that she had made in Wilder, and we successfully captured her last night.

25F

25F

The capture was quick and successful, and now 25F has a working collar again.  To see where 25F roams, check out her track with our puma tracker here.

Taking a blood sample from 25F (Photo by Julia Burks)

Taking a blood sample from 25F (Photo by Julia Burks)

Santa Cruz Pumas featured on BBC Science in Action podcast

This week, we published a paper on puma behavioral responses to human development and how they relate to kill rates in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We found that females spend less time at their deer kills when they are close to people, and therefore kill deer more often to compensate.

For more, listen to BBC’s Science in Action radio show here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02gyp6x

Puma kill site near a home in Felton, CA

Puma kill site near a home in Felton, CA

 

Collecting scat for conservation with the help of local volunteers

Have you ever seen an animal scat on the ground and wondered who it belonged to? Perhaps you pictured a bobcat slinking down the trail just before you, marking its territory before continuing its travels? Or a pair of coyotes cruising around looking for their next meal? I certainly have! Leaving a scat is not just a simple biological necessity for animals. Many species communicate territoriality or reproductive status with their scats. Collecting animal scats can provide a unique, non-invasive method to look at diet, space-use, and stress, among many other things. This is because scats carry prey remains, DNA, and hormones that can be analyzed in a laboratory setting.

Fox scat, characteristically on top of a rock. Photo: Justine Smith.

Fox scat, characteristically on top of a rock. Photo: Justine Smith.

In 2014, I (Justine Smith, a PhD candidate with the Santa Cruz Puma Project) started a citizen science project with the help of puma project alumni Dr. Yiwei Wang to collect mesopredator scat samples. Mesopredators are mid-sized predators, such as bobcats, coyotes, and gray foxes. We were interested in seeing how their diets change in response to human disturbances, but were unsure how we were going to collect enough scats to answer our questions. We decided to reach out to you guys, our community of fellow naturalists that are interested in learning about our local environment and doing research to contribute to its conservation. We started the group Conservation Scats, and have been having a great time hiking trails with our dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers ever since. Since we began, our team has collected over 200 scats! Our project is about to come to a close, so if you are interested in learning about animal tracking and assisting in local research, please contact me through our webpage, conservationscats.com. Our last field days are tentatively scheduled for February 21 and 28. Please drop by the website to learn more about our project and check out our local scat identification guide!

Bobcat scat containing feathers from a Steller's Jay.

Scat containing feathers from a Steller’s Jay. Photo: Justine Smith.

 

Progress creating connection across the 17

Project post doc, Max Allen, and I recently went out in the field with Tanya Diamond and Ahiga Snyder from Pathways for Wildlife to see where the Santa Cruz County Land Trust will build the new wildlife crossing culvert under Highway 17.

We started off our hike with Ahiga telling us the story of a male puma he had been tracking across the area.  He set up camera traps across the newly-acquired property in spots he thought a puma might use, and was very excited to tell us about the series of photos documenting a male’s trek from Soquel Creek up to Highway 17.

Tanya and Ahiga bounded down the trail from camera to camera, clearly thrilled about the presence of this cat in the recently protected land, as well as their ability to track his movements.  They checked each camera and clicked though the photos, “skunk… wind… wind… squirrel…” looking for more evidence of the puma.

As each camera turned up empty-handed, their excitement waned.  Ahiga explained to us that he was still optimistic, but he was concerned about the cat.  The last time he saw the puma had been right before an uncollared male was stuck and killed on the 17 not far from where the last photo was taken.

With each passing camera the chances of catching a glimpse of the cat decreased, and it started to sink in that Ahiga had likely documented that male’s final trek to Highway 17 where he had been killed.

Sadly, this male was one of 13 pumas killed on Highway 17 in the past seven years.  However, the new culvert the Santa Cruz County Land Trust is installing could make him the last.  Check out this short video about it.