Every month, one of our biologists goes up in a plane to try to locate all of our study animals and download the GPS information from their collars. Flying is the most efficient way to download the GPS data because we can cover much more ground than driving. We are lucky to work with pilot Mark Dedon, who has been flying us around for the last three years.
Before the flight, Paul and Mark must first attach the antennae to the plane so that Paul can listen for the puma’s location in the air and then download its data once located.
Once the antennae are secured, then it’s time to go airborne. Mark flies around as Paul listens for VHF signals from puma collars. Once he hears one, he asks Mark to fly closer to the target animal and uses his receiver to communicate with the animal’s collar.
Those with weak stomachs or small bladders don’t do very well on these telemetry flights because the plane often has to circle above the animal for many minutes while the collar download is completed. To find all of our study cats, which range from Corralitos to Palo Alto, it usually takes several hours of zigzagging up and down the Santa Cruz Mountains.
From a thousand feet up, the impacts of habitat fragmentation and loss is really evident across many parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s not hard to look down into the trees and imagine a puma moving through the forest not far from a road or trail. Without a bird’s eye view of where “civilization” begins and “wilderness” ends, it’s impressive that pumas can manage to have so little interaction with humans.
The Santa Cruz Puma Project was featured on this week’s Science Nation video from the National Science Foundation, entitled, “Bio-logging collar reveals unprecedented detail about California mountain lions“. This video shows three very important components of the puma project through interviews with Chris Wilmers (the ecologist), Gabe Elkaim (the engineer), and Terrie Williams (the physiologist). By building a team of different specialists, the puma project aims to unlock secrets about what mountain lions do and how they live in a challenging landscape dominated by people. To learn more about what the puma project is up to, watch the video below!
POST and Pathways for Wildlife have partnered up and put together an excellent video about culverts and Highway 17! In the video, Tanya Diamond and Ahiga Snyder explain some of the work they’ve been doing to increase habitat connectivity across such a formidable barrier to individual movements and gene flow around the Santa Cruz Mountains.
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.
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.
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.