The annual Cougar Project study is underway in Yellowstone. Cougars by their nature are not easy animals to study. Their penchant for steep, rugged terrain, combined with their nocturnal nature and skill at hiding prey make cougars difficult to monitor. But Yellowstone researchers are not to be deterred. Armed with the latest technology, the Cougar Project team logs hundreds of snowy miles to make new discoveries about the park’s elusive cat.
To give an idea of the kind of work done and terrain covered, below are images and video captured by the Cougar Project team from a recent winter season study. We are looking forward to providing an update with more information and amazing visuals in 2018!
The Yellowstone Cougar Project, funded in part by Yellowstone Forever, kicked off in 2014 to fill in the gaps in knowledge about the abundance, distribution, and predation patterns of Yellowstone’s cougars. The ultimate goal is to understand their role as one of three top predators in the ecosystem, along with wolves and bears, to inform future conservation efforts. (Photo: Dan Stahler)
Ledges, steep slopes, and deep watershed ravines are common habitat preferences for cougars in northern Yellowstone, and males can have ranges up to 150 miles. Researchers use snow-tracking surveys along 18 survey routes looking for signs of cougars. (Photo: NPS)
Field technicians Aaron Morris (left) and Marcus Bianco record data on a tablet using a GPS unit
before collecting a portion of cougar scat for DNA analysis. The team employs non-invasive genetic sampling methods such as collecting hair from natural snags, bedsites, fecal matter, or blood in snow from nicks and scrapes on feet. To date, 22 unique individual cougars have been identified by their DNA. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
Research hounds Sula and Junior follow their noses to locate scent left behind by passing cougars. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
The field crew tracks a family group of cougars as they wander along the banks of the Yellowstone
River. Most of the research for this study is conducted in the winter months when snow makes the cats easier to track. Crew members can log up to 18 miles per day in their pursuit of cougars. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
Field technicians Wes Binder and Kira Powell record data at a cougar’s fresh scrape in the snow. Cougars, especially males, make these shallow depressions with their hind feet and deposit urine and/or scat. This behavior is thought to be a means of communication with other cougars. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
Yellowstone Wildlife Biologist Dr. Dan Stahler finishes the field examination of a newly collared adult male. In 2015, the Cougar Project team added GPS collaring to their research methods, in order to more accurately evaluate current sex- and age-specific habitat use and predation patterns, and measure cougar energetics with special accelerometer collars. (Photo: W. Binder)
National Geographic photographer and collaborator Drew Rush sets up a remote camera trap for cougars. In addition to tracking surveys, the team has deployed remote cameras. The devices have yielded hundreds videos of cougars traveling past, bedding, or scent-marking, along with cameos by grizzlies, wolves, bighorn sheep, and numerous other species. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
A male cougar visits a cached carcass at night. He was photographed by one of the remote cameras set up by researchers. (Photo: D. Stahler/NPS)
Click on the image above to watch a 17-second video captured by one of the Yellowstone Cougar Project’s remote cameras! (Video: Courtesy of NPS)