From the San Francisco Chronicle, a Sunday front page article on our recently launched puma project.
The tired, sweaty trackers scrambled up a steep, muddy slope in a remote canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains to the towering madrone tree where the hounds were barking.
Poised on a thick, bare branch on a brilliant day in late December was a panting, snarling mountain lion.
“There she is, straight up above us,” said Paul Houghtaling, a 33-year-old researcher for the Bay Area Puma Project, as he dug his boots into the soft leaf matter on the nearly vertical hillside.
The muscles in the tawny lion’s back legs rippled 30 feet above him. The cougar’s mouth was open and her nose was working, sniffing, perhaps, for her cub, which had darted off in another direction.
Led by researchers from UC Santa Cruz, the project is the first attempt to track Bay Area mountain lions, which are being seen in greater numbers as urban areas spread into the region’s wildlands.
For the next three years, the team will track their behavior and movements in the Santa Cruz Mountains – including mating habits, favored prey, survival needs and travel routes. Researchers hope to expand the study for several more years after that to include the Diablo Range and the North Bay.
The 90-pound cat turned her gaze from the dogs to the humans, staring first at Houghtaling, then at each of the other five humans as they clambered into view on this brilliant sunny day just before the New Year.
“It is an intense feeling to be in the presence of such a powerful animal,” Houghtaling said. “I think they feel somewhat safe being in a tree, but they know they are cornered and they are looking for a way out. I feel a sense of awe and also a sense of responsibility that the animal is being captured and collared for a good reason – namely, that we are increasing our understanding of them and contributing to their long-term conservation.”
The researchers were after the mother lion because they wanted to replace a device called an accelerometer in her collar. The specially designed gizmo, which uses software similar to that found in interactive video games, will allow researchers to plot movements like running, stalking, pouncing or even mating at any given time.
Since May, four mountain lions – two males and two females – have been captured, darted and fitted with collars that have Global Positioning System devices and an accelerometer. The other female recently lost her collar during a violent struggle with a deer, the remains of which were later found along with the collar.
Chris Wilmers, the lead investigator for the project, said the data from collars – which can be retrieved every couple of weeks using a remotely triggered radio uplink – will be used to calculate daily calorie consumption and energy demands. The ultimate goal, he said, is to determine how vulnerable pumas are to environmental and habitat disturbance.
Click here to read the full article SF chronicle article.