The following guest post was written by Puma Project field technician Sean McCain:
Today’s goal was to make a final attempt to access 19F’s den site and collar her two five-week-old kittens so we could monitor them into adulthood. This would be our final attempt because of two factors: The den was located in rough terrain and the kittens would soon be too agile and impossible to catch. Our capture team had also gotten a nasty case of poison oak from a failed attempt the week before.
The morning sun foreshadowed what Paul and I feared the day would become: hot and dry. We looked out across the valley to plan our route through the unforgiving chaparral of El Sereno Open Space.
Preserve in Los Gatos. There were no easy routes. Bushwhacking would be our only option.
After a long slog through unforgiving chaparral, Paul and I came to a rest spot just 40 meters from the den. Paul took out our receiver antenna to determine if the mother had left the den: She hadn’t. Our only hope was that the sound of us crashing through poison oak and manzanita would scare her off.
Paul and I made it to the den site and spotted two kittens huddled together. We crawled towards them as they scattered clumsily away. To my relief one was slower and became ensnared in a bush, making his capture swift and gentle.
19F had presumably vacated to avoid any confrontation, as puma mothers typically do. Previous studies have shown that puma mothers who confront male puma intruders have a lower life expectancy than those who abandon their kittens and save themselves. This behavior is adaptive because the pumas that avoid confrontation are likely to live longer and produce more offspring – a behavior which Paul and I were now exploiting.
Unfortunately, the second kitten was a fast runner and after some time I realized I needed to modify my technique. In a final attempt, I crouched behind a wood rat nest and began imitating the kitten’s vocalizations to lure him in.
To my amazement, the curious kitten came sprinting around the wood rat nest, straight into me! I swept him up and carried him back to be processed with his sibling. They were both males.
These kittens not only represent a wealth of new information for us, but a new milestone for our project; these male kittens are numbers 49 and 50.
Paul and I decided to give the restless speed racer the name of Puma 50M.
Tagging kittens will allow us to investigate differences in kitten survival among habitat types and levels of human development. It will also enable us to better collar and track dispersing young lions to their new territories. Understanding kitten survival and dispersal will assist with land use planning in the Santa Cruz Mountains and contribute to the global research and conversation on carnivore ecology, persistence, and management.
Later that night, Paul assessed 19F’s data and confirmed she had returned soon after we left to relocate the kittens to a new den site.
We recently captured this rare footage of a mountain lion killing a deer fawn in front of one of our remote cameras. Notice that the puma is holding the neck of the fawn and the fawn occasionally tries to wriggle free.
This appears to be the strategy by which pumas kill their prey (at least deer). Namely that they bite on to the trachea (breathing tube) and kill the prey by suffocating it to death. A quick search on youtube reveals two more videos. In this first video, the puma jumps on the deer’s back and then eventually kills it be biting and holding on the trachea.
In this second video, the puma has already felled the deer and again finally kills the deer by holding on to its trachea.
You may remember the beautiful National Geographic photo of a male puma, P-22, who lives in Griffith Park. His territory is very close to humans, but, as far as we know, he’s never had a problem with that. That is, until now.
It turns out that P-22 has never bothered any people, but we have unintentionally hurt him. Just 4 months after the National Geographic photo was taken, male P-22 was recaptured by biologists. This time, they noticed he didn’t look like he was doing very well – he was thin, his hair was patchy, and his skin was crusty.
From his blood sample, they were able to tell that he had been exposed to rat poison, a potentially deadly anti-coagulant. If these poisons don’t kill a puma directly, but they can weaken their immune systems and cause secondary problems that may prove fatal. In P-22′s case, rat poison had compromised his immune system and had a severe case of mange. He was lucky this time, he was treated and released, but many other animals are not as fortunate.
P-22 is by no means the first animal biologists have found with health problems associated with exposure to rodenticides; biologists have been studying this problem in bobcats and coyotes in Southern California. We may have seen this in our study area as well.
Toxic compounds, like rat poisons, may not kill their intended rodent target right away. Rodents may ingest a small amount of rat poison, and then get eaten by a puma, bobcat, raptor, or other carnivore. Once these carnivores have eaten a few rodenticide-exposed rodents, the carnivores may accumulate a dose large enough to have toxic effects.
Luckily, starting July 1st, the state will put new restrictions in effect to limit the availability of rodenticides. However, that doesn’t mean that the rat poisons you can still buy are safe. Here are some tools to help control rodents in your home that will be safer for your family, pets, and wildlife.
By now many of your have read about 46m’s big adventure into downtown Mountain View. Here we take a closer look at how he got there based on data we retrieved from his collar after we anesthetized him in a parking lot in Mountain View. We originally collared 46m in January just south of Big Basin State Park. You can see from the image below that for the first few months that we had a tag on him, he stayed in his mother’s territory. Then, like all young males, he dispersed from his mom’s territory to seek out one of his own. In other studies, young males have been known to travel up to hundreds of miles before settling down in a place to call home. Part of our research is trying to understand what kind of obstacles and barriers these animals face as they disperse. In this case 46m wandered north for roughly 2 weeks across the Santa Cruz Mountains into downtown Mountain View. Note that each yellow point here represents one of 46m’s locations derived from a GPS unit on his collar. Points are anywhere from 5 minutes to 4 hours apart in time. We connect the points with a yellow line, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he traveled along that line between points.
If we zoom in on the northern part of his track, we can see where he left the wild and entered a sea of urban development below. He crossed highway 280 and enterd the Los Altos hills, where he wanderd around and then hunkered down for the day. The next night he started moving around again and found his way into downtown Mountain View nearly 4 miles from the wildlands he came from. That’s two nights and parts of three days so far that he was wandering around this highly developed area, and no one had seen him yet. He’s looking for a territory with potential mates, but clearly this was not it. My best guess at this point, is that he was looking for a way out, but he was so deep into the urban area, that he was not sure where to go to get back to open space. In the meantime he evaded detection by moving at night, and hiding in whatever places he can find — in a bush, under a parked car, up in a tree etc.
Finally at dawn after his second night, he settled down around 5:45 am and spent the next 9 hours hiding behind a bush in front of an apartment complex on a busy street.
Here is what that bush looks like. Amazingly, despite being walked and driven past by hundreds of people, nobody saw him. Nobody noticed him, and perhaps people will find it reassuring that he didn’t bother anyone either.
At around 3pm he decided he didn’t like that spot any more, and he decided to try and find a better place to hang out, as you can see his movement path in the figure above. Around 7pm we got our first calls from the Mountain View police about a possible collared puma wandering around their town, and we read on the Twitter feeds about a helicopter circling overhead to try to locate him. Fortunately, the police surrounded him in a safe spot in a parking garage, and we were able to safely assist Cal Fish and Wildlife with anesthetizing him and getting him back to open space!
We’ll keep you up to date on 46m’s future movements and let you know how he is doing.
In October, we introduced you to 41M and his brother, 46M, who taunted him through the bars when 41M was in our trap. Then in January, 46M wandered into a trap we set for him and we gave him a collar to match his brother’s. We didn’t see any sign of their mom until February, when we caught her on video, feeding on a deer she had killed. Up until now, it looked like 41M and 46M have had a pretty typical life with their mom. That all changed last night!
To back up for a minute, imagine you are a young male puma: You spend your first couple years with your family, learning what you need to know to be a grown up. Sometime between the ages of 18 to 24 months old, you have to leave the protection of your mom and look for territory and mates of your own. Ideally you’ll want to find a large amount of space (approximately a 100 square miles) with abundant food and a few female pumas to mate with. But, before you can get there, you have to contend with roads, cars, people, development, unknown country, finding food, and resident male pumas ready to kill you to defend their territory.
41M and 46M have hit the age where it’s time for them to disperse, leaving their home and family, and set out exploring unfamiliar land. It looks like 46M left the area in which he grew up, east of Boulder Creek, in search or a territory and mate of his own. Unfortunately, instead of finding his way into a nice patch of unoccupied woods, his wanderings took him into Mountain View!
Imagine his surprise – thinking he could probably push through dispersed human development to get to more forest that was surely on the other side, only to find himself surrounded by cars, buildings, dogs, and people. He did manage to get himself to a spot – a parking garage – where the authorities could feel comfortable capturing him.
Many people from CA Fish and Wildlife and the Mountain View Police Department worked late into the night with the Puma Project to safely dart and take 46M back to the mountains where he belongs. We are grateful and encouraged to be involved with such a successful collaborative effort to help give 46M a happy ending to what must have been a harrowing adventure!