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Cougars in Mexico

Tags:
Mexico, Range, Cougar, Behavior

A Protective Mother Cougar

Image of NATURALIA, A.C. two cubs

In central Sonora México, the non-profit conservation group Naturalia, has created a 45,000 acre reserve called Reserva del Jaguar del Norte or Northern Jaguar Reserve, to protect the northernmost population of jaguars along with healthy populations of cougars, bobcats, and ocelots, four flagship feline species that represent the region's unique biodiversity. The project usually has five to thirty-five camera-traps set to capture images of the region's four felines: Jaguar, Cougar, Ocelot, and Bobcat. It is not unusual for Naturalia's team to find a camera occasionally missing, or damaged by flash floods, or simply not working as the internal parts decay with the high temperatures that can pass the 50 degree C (122 degree F) mark.

However, on one occasion Naturalla's scientists found one camera with signs of damage that could only be described as tooth-marks. It was an analog camera and because the reserve was nine hours away from the nearest developing shop, the crew had to wait several days until they could get back to town and find an answer to the mystery of what creature had decided to chew the camera.

The photos were developed at the laboratory in Naturalia's regional office in Hermosillo. Photos one and two clearly show a cougar approaching the camera, while photo three shows an eerie red glow as the flash illuminates the inside of the cougar's mouth. Clearly this cougar was suspicious of the alien object found in her territory.

Fortunately she did not damage the camera and researchers were able to figure out why the female cougar seemed upset by the camera when traditionally the cats disregard cameras completely. Ten minutes after the picture of the inside of her mouth, the camera, shaken but working, captured a beautiful, healthy, spotted cougar-kitten on film. The protective mother had simply wanted to check out the strange object before putting her kitten in potentail danger.

Apparently, convinced that the camera was harmless she returned the next day and the camera was able to capture another three pictures, two of them showing both kittens in the litter. It is unusual to get good pictures of cougar kittens and even more unusual to have a peek of the inside of one of the continent's mightiest predators out in the wild. We were extremely lucky and the images lifted the spirits of the whole team as Naturalia's field and office staff in Sonora and Mexico City shared and celebrated them, happily remembering why they love doing what they do.

2/4/09

A Lucky Day in the Sierra

by Fabricio Feduchy

I went to the Sierra de San Pedro Martir, in Baja, with a specific assignment: to film the California condor. This magnificent vulture was reintroduced to Baja California in 2002, having gone extinct originally in Mexico during the late 1950´s. My assignment was part of a binational project involving the Mexican and U.S. governments, and some NGO's, to preserve and protect the condor in its original territories.

To protect the condors, it is necessary to feed them occasionally, especially in winter. Domestic stock carcasses were used, primarily cows, horses, and donkeys that had died on the road or on the nearby ranches, and subsequently donated or sold them to the project investigators. Because of the origin of the carcasses, it was necessary to place the carcasses by night so the condors would not relate the food with humans.

So, in the dark hours of a freezing, early morning, my partner and I entered a couple of blinds set near a big cow carcass to wait many hours for the condors to come and feed. Condors only fly when the sun is high, and the warm air forms thermals that they need to launch from the ground and soar overhead.

As soon as the sun rose behind the Sea of Cortes and its beautiful light bathed the Sierra, my partner started making signals to call my attention to something happening outside the blind.

"Couldn't be condors," I thought. "Way too early." However, I looked, and when I opened the little window of my blind I couldn't believe my eyes. A big puma was cautiously approaching the cow carcass, as quiet and sagaciously as only a cat can move.

Immediately I turned on my video and photographic cameras that already were set on a tripod, and started shooting like crazy, going from one camera to the other. I took more than 300 photographs in less than five minutes.

I'm especially fond of one of them. The light was perfect and the cougar turned its head to consider the strange plants than hid my blind, which was just a few feet away. The wind was hard against me so the puma couldn't hear me, smell, or see me. The puma spent more than 40 minutes feeding on a cow leg. Finally, it stopped eating...and then came directly towards my blind! Thank God, the big-spined cactus did its job, and the big cat turned and departed as it had arrived: sagaciously.

That was it for my film....no photographs of the condor that day!