Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cougar Project 10/7/2010

Conservation Canine teams work in a variety of different landscapes, collecting scat from many different species: from giant anteater in Brazil, orca whale in the San Juan Islands, to tiger and leopard in Cambodia. This requires knowledge and understanding about both the habits and lifestyle of many different species. When beginning a new survey we like to update and fine tune our knowledge by seeking out the biologists who are experts on the species we are about to survey for. Here on the W. T. Wildlife Area in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington we recently began a study working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) surveying for cougar (puma concolor). WDFW cougar ecology experts, Gary Koehler, research Scientist for WDFW, Rich Beausoleil, Bear and Cougar Specialist with WDFW, and Kari Dingman, Assistant Wildlife Area Manager, have been so wonderful in aiding and adding to our store of knowledge about all things cougar!

Some things you may not have known about the elegant and elusive large cat, courtesy of WDFW cougar experts:

These cats are neat and tidy. At a kill they often like to bury not only their kill, but also their scat, to ward off potential scavengers. This makes finding their scat a bit like a scavenger hunt extra exciting. Here is Scooby standing next to a site where he found a buried cougar scat!! Digging a little further, handler Jennifer (Team ECHO) discovered other scats in the same latrine. Thanks little kitty.

"Hey, Jennifer-- buried cougar scat under here!"

Cougars also often like to leave scrapes in the duff. This tells other cougar roaming nearby that this hunting ground is taken. Many cat species leave scrapes but cougars are special because their’s are large.

Large cougar scrape.

Below is a female cougar print Gary Koehler found, and another that Kari Dingman found. Cougar prints usually do not show claw marks, as do coyote or wolf prints.

Gary Koehler, a WDFW cougar expert and also an apparent wildilfe tracker.  How did he see this?

Courtesy of Kari Dingman.

Cougars usually drag their kills into drainages, in order to provide more cover. Thus, not only are we searching ridges, which are easy for cougars to move and stalk prey from, but we are also checking draws and canyons for kill sites. Below is an old kill site, followed by a picture of more fresh kill site.

Old kill site.

New kill site.

Large bones or hair are usually present in the scat of cougar. Bear can sometimes eat the same thing as cougar and this can be tricky to determine in the field. Would you collect the below scat as cougar or bear? Luckily the dogs know what is what!

Answer: Scat is from a bear, not a cougar.

Thanks very much to the experts at Washington Department for Fish and Wildlife! You’re knowledge and help has been invaluable to the success of this awesome project!

WDFW have been wonderful to work with. 

Deer Lake, scenic view from one of our surveys in the Blue Mountains.

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