Teton Cougar Project

Overview

Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project is one of few long-term cougar projects in North America, and therefore has real potential to impact conservation of the species. The project’s focus includes cougar population dynamics (including the effects of recolonizing wolves and human hunting on cougar survivorship), cougar habitat selection, foraging ecology, and cougar interactions with other carnivores.

Panthera's Cougar Expert

Now in its thirteenth year, the Teton Cougar Project was co-founded by Dr. Howard Quigley, Executive Director of Panthera’s Cougar and Jaguar Programs, and Dr. Maurice Hornocker, one of the original pioneers in cougar research. Photographed here, Dr. Quigley leads Craighead Beringia South staff in the field, including Derek Craighead, Co-PI on Phase 1 of the project and long-time project supporter.

Secret Lives of Cougars

The Teton Cougar Project is revealing the secret, social lives of cougars through innovative technology - work that may rewrite our understanding of the social ecology of this species.
Understanding America's Big Cat

Male cougar walking through the snow, Teton MountainsThe Teton Cougar Project (TCP) operates in northwestern Wyoming, on 2,300 km2 of the most ecologically-intact ecosystems in the lower United States. The project spans the Gros Ventre Range, Grand Teton National Park, National Elk Refuge, and the Teton Wilderness Area (Bridger-Teton National Forest), surrounding the small towns of Moose, Moran, and Kelly, WY. This landscape boasts diverse and extensive wildlife populations, including cougars, mule deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, wolverines, rare bobcats and Canada lynx.

A coyote, one predator with which cougars share land and prey Our scientists, Dr. Howard Quigley and Dr. Mark Elbroch, utilize cutting-edge GPS collars to track cougar movements, identify cougar dens, and monitor kittens from an early age. Using this method and other research tools, our team has recorded and observed rare and undocumented cougar behaviors, extended family lineages over time, and a vast amount of data gathered to reveal the hidden lives of cougars in the Southern Yellowstone Ecosystem in order to better preserve the species.

During Phase 1 of the Teton Cougar Project, our team:  

  • Documented characteristics of the local cougar population, including population size, survivorship, causes of mortality, and birth rates;
  • Quantified the influence of re-colonizing wolves and grizzly bears on local cougar demographics (survivorship);
  • Described and quantified cougar home ranges and habitat use, as well as any changes in cougar habitat use related to other large carnivores;
  • Characterized cougar predation on elk, mule deer, and other species over time;
  • In collaboration with Craighead Beringia South, compared the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of multiple non-invasive methods of monitoring cougars at large scales, including track surveys, camera-trap surveys, and genetic surveys;, and
  • Communicated our findings to state and federal agencies and the general public to ensure this project makes an impact on conservation strategies for this species.

Of course, new questions emerged as we worked, and Teton Cougar Project Leader, Dr. Mark Elbroch, launched Phase 2 of the TCP in 2012. Our new objectives include:  

  • Document and describe cougar social interactions and other behaviors;
  • Characterize cougar prey selection and kill rates in a multi-prey system using new field techniques;
  • Quantify and describe the ecological services provided by free-roaming cougars (keystone roles) and;
  • Continue to communicate our findings as widely as possible.

Thus far, we have collared and monitored 98 individual cougars, documenting their territories, prey selection, and population dynamics. (Read Panthera’s Q&A on collaring cougars.) During this time, we have determined that the approx. 2,300 km2 study area supports an estimated 15-20 resident, adult cougars, and that this population’s numbers have declined significantly in the last 7-8 years. Our scientists have also learned that cougars eat different prey in different seasons, predominantly elk in the winter, with an increasing shift to mule deer in the summer in recent years. We believe part of the reason for this shift is competition with recolonizing wolves.

This critical work is carried out with a variety of cooperators, collaborators, and permitting agencies and organizations, including Craighead Beringia South, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Elk Refuge, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Utah State University.

In 2010-2011, the TCP hosted filmmakers and collaborated with National Geographic Television in the creation of a one-hour documentary about cougars, entitled American Cougar.

Results from the Teton Cougar Project will be applied to other cougar populations in the United States  and  other countries where cougars lives, impacting cougar conservation range-wide.

Learn more about the Teton Cougar Project on Assignment Earth.

Visit the Craighead Beringia South website.

Read Panthera's Cougar Report Card: The State of the Cougar.

Click here to: Meet the Cougar

cougar Programs

Bison in the Teton Mountains Teton Cougar Project | Understanding America's Big Cat

Panthera on the Ground

In February 2010, Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter, and Jaguar Program Director, Dr. Howard Quigley, led a team of scientists through the snowy hills of Wyoming to re-collar a young male cougar that Quigley has been monitoring for the past four years. The team took hair samples from the cougar to learn more about his diet, and measured and weighed the cougar to assess his overall health. After a comprehensive check-up, the team replaced the cougar’s collar and released him back into the wild, where his movements will be closely tracked to help determine his movement, ecological requirements, and population dynamics, until his next check-up.

How you can help cougars right now: