Panthera's 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 pumas, mule deer, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, bison, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, wolverines, rare bobcats and Canada lynx.
Our scientists, Dr. Howard Quigley and Dr. Mark Elbroch, utilize cutting-edge GPS collars to track puma movements, identify puma dens, and monitor kittens from an early age. Using this method and other research tools, our team has recorded and observed rare and undocumented puma behaviors, extended family lineages over time, and a vast amount of data gathered to reveal the hidden lives of pumas in the Southern Yellowstone Ecosystem in order to better preserve the species.
During Phase 1 of Panthera's Teton Cougar Project, our team:
- Documented characteristics of the local puma population, including population size, survivorship, causes of mortality, and birth rates;
- Quantified the influence of re-colonizing wolves and grizzly bears on local puma demographics (survivorship);
- Described and quantified puma home ranges and habitat use, as well as any changes in puma habitat use related to other large carnivores;
- Characterized puma 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 pumas 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 Dr. Mark Elbroch, launched Phase 2 of the TCP in 2012. Our new objectives include:
- Document and describe puma social interactions and other behaviors;
- Characterize puma prey selection and kill rates in a multi-prey system using new field techniques;
- Quantify and describe the ecological services provided by free-roaming pumas (keystone roles) and;
- Continue to communicate our findings as widely as possible.
Thus far, we have monitored >120 individual pumas, documenting their territories, prey selection, and population dynamics. (Read Panthera’s Q&A on collaring pumas.) During this time, we have determined that the approx. 2,300 km2 study area supports an estimated 15-20 resident, adult pumas, and the local population has declined significantly in the last 7-8 years. Our scientists have also learned that pumas 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, Pace University, Texas State University, North Carolina State University, 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 pumas, entitled American Cougar. The TCP also collaborated with BBC and NatGeo Wild to create a second film narrated by legendary naturalist Sir David Attenborough, entitled ‘Mountain Lions: Big Cats in High Places’ that will debut in the UK on June 23, 2015. Stay tuned for details on the U.S. release date of the film later this year.
Results from Panthera's Teton Cougar Project will be applied to other puma populations in the United States and other countries where pumas live, impacting puma conservation range-wide.
Visit Panthera’s Cougar Channel to see high-def videos and photos of this elusive wild cat at cougarchannel.org
Learn more about the Teton Puma Project on Assignment Earth.
Read Panthera's Puma Report Card: The State of the Puma.
Click here to: Meet the Puma
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