Mark Elbroch spent the last years 12 years studying cougars, but his latest findings have turned up some startling results. With the help of motion-tracking video cameras, researchers are seeing wolf-cougar interaction in a new light.
Elbroch is currently the project leader for the Teton Cougar Project in Kelly, Wyoming where his team is watching a nearby mountain lion population. The project seeks to study both collared and non-collared cougars and observe their interactions with other predators, as well as the animals’ conservation needs. Elbroch and his fellow researchers have tagged 14 mountain lions in Jackson Hole, and placed cameras in dens and feeding sites for observation.
What they’ve seen is a drastic decrease in the cougar population over the last dozen years. According to jhnewsandguide.com, the project estimates that the number of mountain lions in Jackson Hole have been cut nearly in half. Last year, only one collared cougar remained, while researchers believe 18 non-collared animals still live in the area.
The reason for this is attributed in part to wolves. Competition between predators often involves more than just going hungry; the wolves have been intruding on cougar territory with a fight in mind.
“Wolves appear to be knocking them back,” Elbroch said. “And they seem to be targeting kittens. We sometimes find [cougar cubs] torn up to pieces.”
Video captured at feed sites, where the mountain lions have been feeding on animal carcasses, show tense battles between the two species. In one instance, Elbroch found proof that wolves were more interested in attacking cougars than they were with the meat on the ground.
Although adult mountain lions are generally larger and stronger than wolves, the Wyoming cougars are finding themselves increasingly outnumbered. While more than capable of putting up a fight against a lone wolf, cougars often find themselves at a disadvantage while facing a pack.
During the last year Elbroch and his team rebuilt the project’s number of collared mountain lions, but four have been killed since. Three of those were attributed to wolves.
Elbroch plans to publish his findings soon. He had previously authored and co-authored a number of books and papers on natural history and wilderness survival.
Image courtesy National Park Service