Remember 36m? This is the guy whose home range included the UCSC campus and went all the way up north close to Big Basin!
One day he even decided to make a kill within view of the front steps of my office building. Not sure who was stalking who :-).
36m also had a penchant for crossing Western ave and coming into town. If you were a raccoon trying to hide in one of those canyons – watch out, cuz 36m had your number.
But mostly 36m hung out outside of town in the coastal bluffs and redwoods that look out over the pacific ocean – some of the most beautiful country in the world. That’s where he really made his living, killing deer and keeping tabs on his better halves – 29f,10f and 25f and their kittens (watch him courting 10f here). They were his pride – only ever meeting to mate – but 36m kept them safe by keeping any intruding males away.
Last week we discovered 36m’s collar was on mortality mode. When we went in to investigate we found that he had died about 3 weeks previously. Unfortunately his body was too decayed to tell definitively how he died, but we were able to rule out a vehicle strike, gunshot or another puma. Its most likely that he died of poison but we can’t be sure. Right before dying he had eaten a raccoon in the same place that he had previously eaten a coyote and cat. The problem with eating these smaller predators is that they can be full of rodenticides from the small rodents they eat that have been poisoned.
While 36m was a bad ass puma by any measure, he might one day come to be the most recognized puma anywhere. That’s because we just recently (well really it was Ed Green and Beth Shapiro) completed a de novo contig assembly of his genome. In short time, this will be the puma genome against which other puma genomes can be compared and used to test all sorts of evolutionary and ecological questions about pumas.
We first got to know 36m as a young puma appearing clandestinely in trail cameras set up within 3m‘s territory (3m was the first male puma in our study with a territory almost identical to what became 36m’s). 3m was a big bruiser and we couldn’t imagine anything happening to him, but soon after 36m arrived, 3m was no longer, and all of a sudden the cubs in that territory started getting killed by a puma (most notably 2f’s cubs). After that brief period of mayhem, 36m established his territory and all has been calm for puma on the north coast for the past few years. But within days of 36m dying last month, 29f’s kitten was killed by a puma in Wilder State Park. The next few months are likely to be tough ones for pumas on the north coast, until a new male is firmly established in this territory. So it goes with puma…
This is a pair of 2 week old puma kittens. We make our initial visit to dens at 2 weeks in order to confirm it is a den and count how many kittens were born. We return at 4 weeks to place collars on kittens in order to track their growth and survival. Our published research has found that human development has negative impacts on nursery site selection.
A photo of a puma family above the night time lights of San Jose. This photo was captured with a motion-triggered camera by our field technician Chris Fust. The effects of urbanization and human activity are a focus of our project. We have found that human development affects where pumas choose to have dens and scent marking areas, and also affects how often pumas kill prey.
We have been using motion-triggered video cameras for over 4 years to study puma communication behaviors. Here is a video we captured of a mother puma and two of her playful yearling kittens. We suspect that the mother puma is 52f before we placed a collar on her. For more information on how pumas communicate, see our published paper by Max Allen and Chris Wilmers from 2014.
On Saturday, June 20, post-doc Max Allen, technician Chris Fust, and I parked in a grassy field in Wilder Ranch with one mission in mind. We were setting out to visit what we believed to be a newly established den by 25F, a female puma that lives primarily in Wilder. 25F had been present at the den for a few days, so we had waited to go investigate to avoid disturbing her away from her den. Finally, 25F had gone hunting, and we had our chance.
Max, Chris, and I walked across the meadow, through the forest, and down a steep slope as our GPS informed us that we were continuously getting closer. When we were near the den, we split up to try to locate the kittens. Within minutes, Chris had found the den, complete with three nearly 5-week-old kittens. We fitted each one of them with an ear tag for identification purposes and a small, expandable collar that will fall off in a few months. The collar allows us to track their survival in these early and important months of their lives. Find out more about why we collar kittens in an earlier post here.
These kittens live in a pretty pristine area in Wilder Ranch State Park, but they still face some threats. Puma kittens are sometimes killed by male pumas or other predators. They also need a lot of energy and nutrients, so they rely on their mom to have high hunting success. All three kittens are males, so in about a year and a half, they will have to leave their mom and find their own territories, possibly putting them as risk from crossing roads and freeways.
However, for now, the kittens are healthy, feisty, and safe with their mom. We look forward to following their journeys to adulthood!