Mountain lions are amazing animals, aren’t
they? When I was doing field work near Santa
Ynez, I had a trail camera set up and I still
remember how excited I was when I saw a photo of
But back to your questions.
Usually, when scientists are tagging animals
they try to tag as many as possible. It
helps to get a picture of how the animals interact
and move around, even who is related to whom. But
researchers are limited by how many cats they can
actually capture to collar or tag, how many tags
or collars they can afford, and how many they get
permission to tag or collar. Which animals they
tag can depend on their questions.
For example, if they want to find out about
where young animals go to establish territories,
they might just tag the youngest animals. If they
want a general picture of cat behavior, they might
try to spread collars out to get both sexes and
When tagging any animal, you have to be careful
with safety of both humans and animals. An
animal like a mountain lion has to be tranquilized
with a dart containing a drug that will
temporarily put the animal “out” like a person
getting surgery. But researchers have to be
careful not to dart an animal when it’s in a high
place where it could fall and be injured, near
water where it can drown, or near other animals
that might injure it. They also have to use the
correct dosage so the animal will wake up
eventually (but not too soon). In other cases,
researchers use cage-like traps and bait. Then
they drug the animal when it is in the cage.
Others use snares for capturing, or use trained
dogs to chase cougars into trees to dart them.
When they dart a cat in a tree, climbers have to
safely lower it.
Because darting or capturing is such a big deal,
teams usually gather as much information as they
can while the animal is drugged. They may take
blood samples, tooth measurements, weights, size
and body condition measurements, make age
estimates, check reproduction status (is she
pregnant or nursing?), etc. One person is
usually in charge of just monitoring the animal to
make sure it’s doing okay, but also not about to
wake up. Researchers also have to make sure that
the animals and people are safe during the “wake
up” process. Some drugs wear off on their own.
Usually a second drug wakes the animal up. That’s
a dangerous time because no one wants the cat to
stagger into a dangerous situation, but they also
don’t want to be too close when it gets alert
enough to go after them.
Some tags are just that, a numbered tag
(usually on the ear) that will identify the
cat or its body later on. Young cats only get tags
because a collar would be too big and heavy, and
would get tighter as they grew. PIT tags, like
many pets get at the vet, go under the skin.
If someone runs a scanner over the right place on
the cat, information appears on the scanner. Some
collars give off signals so that people can track
the animals. Some even give off GPS signals that
satellites can pick up, but these are bigger and
need bigger batteries. They’re also expensive.
Some collars even have the ability to dart the
animal in the future. Some collars have
technology like smart phones—accelerometers that
tell how fast and how much a cat is moving!
Researchers choose collars that will not injure
the animals or change their behavior. All
research on mammals like mountain lions has to be
approved by boards that try to balance research
needs with humane treatment of animals. There are
also laws and regulations to follow. After a
study ends, collars are usually removed so they
don’t cause any problems.
Here’s a great blog entry about a biologist
removing a collar from a mountain lion for the
last time because his study was ending
removing a collar .
Don’t be confused by the name puma.
Mountain lions are called many names, including
puma, cougar, and panther. That’s why scientific
names were invented. All over the world, this
animal is called Puma concolor by scientists.
Do you know that YOU can track mountain
lions in California?
and click on the boxes .
Each one is an individual cat. Numbers that end
in M are males, F is for females. Look for
patterns. Do males and females have different
size territories? Do they overlap? Do they avoid
different areas? Remember that there a lot
of untagged mountain lions out there too.
According to this site:
puma page , sightings of mountain lions
in the Santa Monica mountains are “extremely
rare.” Mountain lions tend to avoid humans
and they’re very good at staying hidden. I spent
hundreds of hours on my study site near Santa
Ynez, and I never got to see one.
If you are interested in a career doing studies
like this, look into wildlife biology or
Thanks for asking,
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