Camera Trap: Puma (Mountain Lion)

A puma triggers the camera trap's eye.

I’ve just had the opportunity to quickly review the photos that our remote cameras have taken in the cloud forest of southeastern Peru over the last few months. As usual, in spite of our best efforts, the frequent strong rains and constant high humidity affected some of the cameras. However, most cameras functioned well, and we continue to collect photos of interesting animal behavior that we could not have predicted.

Our remote cameras are currently programmed to take 10 photos in rapid succession whenever they detect motion. One set of photographs, taken at around dawn on March 9, 2011, shows a puma (also known as a mountain lion or cougar) rubbing its chin and the side of its face against a small sapling growing beside the trail. This is a scent-marking behavior, and you may have seen domestic house cats rub their chin and face on objects, and perhaps even on you.

A second set of remote camera photographs, taken very early on March 18, 2011, shows a puma returning up the trail and performing the same behavior on the same sapling. I suspect it was the same puma as photographed on March 9, but to be honest, although some researchers can identify individual pumas from remote camera photos, I don’t think I can do so. If I’m correct, and it was the same puma, then this cat was renewing its scent on the sampling, advertising that it was still in the area. When we placed that remote camera in the forest, we knew that wild animal trails crossed that spot, but we did not know that pumas were using that sapling as a scent post. If we had the same sense of smell as a house cat, I suspect that would have been obvious to us!

Russ Van Horn is a scientist with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, leading our Andean bear conservation program. Read his previous post, Vegetarian Bears?

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