Panthera Puma Program

Overview

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

Panthera's Puma Expert

Now in its thirteenth year, the Panthera Puma Program was co-founded by Dr. Howard Quigley, Executive Director of Panthera’s Puma and Jaguar Programs, and Dr. Maurice Hornocker, one of the original pioneers in puma 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 Pumas

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

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.

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 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

Pumas

Bison in the Teton Mountains Panthera Puma Program | 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 pumas right now: