Good things come in threes

Good things come in threes

Tracking the movements of mountain lions using GPS collars is just one part of ACR’s Living with Lions project but it is essential to understanding the lion population as a whole. When a collaring opportunity arises, we have a short window for success. Recently we received three calls in rapid succession from residents who suspected mountain lions were responsible for deer and livestock kills on their property.

On February 22 Quinton Martins received a call about a dead deer found partially buried in leaf matter (called ‘caching’) in the front garden of a Sonoma Valley property. Upon investigation it was clear a mountain lion had made the kill, so with the landowner’s permission, Quinton set a trap to capture and collar this animal.

That night, the lion returned to investigate how its kill had moved into a cage and walked into the trap five minutes later! Sometimes we wait for hours and often the lion doesn’t return.

We were amazed to find that it was P1, a 14-year-old female affectionately referred to as “Sonoma’s Super Mama,” for the number of litters of kittens she’s reared. P1 was the first cat captured by the Living with Lions team in October 2016 but by late 2019 her collar had fallen off and she was literally ‘off our radar,’ only trackable through snapshots and video captured by a growing system of trail cameras hosted by residents in the Valley, her bent ear tip a recognizable sign.

Quinton fitted her with a new collar and monitored her recovery until 1:00 a.m. the next morning when he was satisfied with her ability to safely move along.

(P1 successfully captured)

Just two days later, we received a call about sheep depredation at a Healdsburg property where previous depredation events had occurred over the last two years. The male lion previously responsible evaded our cages when set.

This time we set the trap in the late afternoon using the dead sheep as bait and by 7:30 p.m. the lion was spotted approaching the cage—it was a male. He spent what seemed like hours trying to access his stolen meal from the outside of the cage, eventually leaving the scene and leaving us to wonder if we would ever get the chance to track this big cat.

Shortly after midnight the lion returned and triggered the cage! Named P24 (the 24th puma Living with Lions has captured and/or documented with biological samples), he weighed 132 pounds, albeit having at least 10 pounds of sheep in his tummy.

We wrapped up this successful collaring event at about 4:00 a.m. after helping the landowner determine additional safeguards for their remaining livestock.

(P24 waiting outside of the cage)

Incredibly, just a few hours later, Quinton received a third call in as many days—this time reporting a mountain lion kill on a Cazadaro property! But opportunities like this cannot be passed up so the team, including veterinarian Dr. Graham Crawford and trail camera project coordinator Kate Remsen, reassembled again in the rugged terrain of western Sonoma County and set a trap in a gully near the kill site.

With no cellular service in this area, the team relied on VHF telemetry equipment to determine whether a lion had triggered the trap. Waiting in our cars, at 11:00 p.m. we got the signal and headed out to greet a big beautiful male mountain lion!

P25, a.k.a. “Thor,” is the largest cat the project has ever captured, surpassing P21, Goliath, captured in the same area just one year ago. He weighed in at a healthy 136 pounds! Quinton calls him the most pristine mountain lion he’s seen. Thor has nearly perfect teeth and is estimated to be 5-6 years old. We imagine him to be the alpha male in the area.

(P25 getting his teeth examined)

After a long year of being on hold due to the Coronavirus and having a couple of unsuccessful captures, the Living with Lions team is excited to have caught three mountain lions in the span of one week with the help of these quick-thinking residents.  Now we can track and collect valuable data from lions in three different regions of Sonoma County.

A huge thanks to veterinarian Dr. Graham Crawford for being available and attending each of these captures.

Time for a good cat nap.

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