By Deborah Huth Price
An old poster titled “Daydreams” features a housecat dreaming of all the big cats in the wild—possibly its ancestors from centuries ago. The average housecat, while in many ways sharing characteristics of its larger relatives, is a pet and has adapted to human attention and household living.
Mountain lions face a different type of adaptation. As one of the top predators in the country, they are definitely not pets. With the increased number of people living along the Front Range, the space these big cats formerly occupied has become cramped, their prey has sometimes changed and encounters with humans occur more often. It is becoming more common to see a mountain lion as our territories cross, and understanding their behavior and habits benefits both people and wildlife.
When wildlife biologist Caroline Krumm began her master’s work at Colorado State University several years ago, she decided to study mountain lions. Little did she know there had been very few studies on the species and she soon discovered the reason: “Research is expensive and capturing and tracking mountain lions is difficult.”
Undaunted by the task, Krumm began a study for the Colorado Division of Wildlife to discover the effect of mountain lion predation on animals with chronic wasting disease. Her research continued with a grant to study mountain lion territory in Rocky Mountain National Park. “The park wanted to know everything about mountain lions,” said Krumm, because there had been no real studies done of this park predator.
During her research so far, her team has monitored 37 sites in and around the Estes Park area, caught eight cats (using tracking hounds or snares) and collared five. With motion-triggered cameras, they have captured 375 images of mountain lions and 270 other animals.
With the use of telemetry and GPS, Krumm has discovered the wide ranges of these big cats. One young mountain lion traveled from Rocky Mountain National Park to south of highway I-70 and back in three weeks, and then settled into a corner of Estes Park for its home range. Males have much larger ranges than females, said Krumm, sometimes overlapping with five to seven female home territories.
To further research opportunities, Krumm began a non-profit organization, Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy, to try to secure additional funds to study these big cats. An education focus became part of the organization. Estes Park elementary and high school students are now helping researchers collect data, assisting in recording animal tracks and sign, and learning how to use camera traps, radio telemetry, GPS and GIS research techniques.
Seeing an elusive and solitary mountain lion in the wild is rare, and its secrets are still many to be discovered. If you do see one, feel privileged, but also retain the respect for this large predator that is so connected to the wildlife mystique of Colorado.
To find out more about Caroline Krumm’s research and Rocky Mountain Cat Conservancy, visit the web site: http://catconservancy.org.