Grand Teton National Park
Wyoming Game and Fish
January 30, 2008
JACKSON- An ongoing mountain lion research project suffered a setback last Friday, January 25, when a lion kitten was killed during a routine capture operation in Grand Teton National Park. A local veterinarian and biologists from Craighead Beringia South, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and Grand Teton National Park were attempting to capture the 7-month old kitten of a radio-collared adult female mountain lion, when tracking hounds caught and killed the young cougar.
Lion researchers routinely use hounds to safely track and tree the cats so that they can be tranquilized, collared and released. Unfortunately, in this case the kitten involved was in such poor health that it was unable to climb a tree and escape the dogs.
“We’re obviously devastated by the loss of the kitten,” said Teton Cougar Project leader, Howard Quigley. “We have captured a number of cats this age, and even younger, and they’ve always treed well ahead of the dogs. This kitten was so emaciated it likely couldn’t climb a tree. There were dozens available.” A necropsy performed by the crew’s veterinarian, reported ‘very little body fat’ and ‘marked muscle atrophy.’ Officials believed the young cat probably would not have survived the winter.
The kitten’s mother, known as F101, has been the most productive breeding female in the history of the project, but is now old and possibly quickly losing her ability to provide for her young. Based on tracks of F101 and her family, researchers documented the loss of two other kittens from this litter in recent weeks.
Wyoming Game and Fish Department personnel became involved when they were notified by Quigley that a collared cat and its kitten were frequenting a private ranch within Grand Teton National Park where horses are kept. It was collectively decided that an attempt needed to be made to haze the cats away from the private residence, but that it could be accomplished in conjunction with a capture effort to radio-collar the kitten for research purposes. The two cats were adjacent to the ranch in Grand Teton National Park the day of the attempted capture.
“There are always risks associated with capturing and handling wildlife,” said Steve Cain, Grand Teton’s senior wildlife biologist. “It doesn’t matter if tranquilizer darts, net-guns, or baited traps are being used, losing an animal is a possibility that we take very seriously and go to extreme efforts to mitigate. By carefully evaluating the need for science, the risk of research to wildlife, and the qualifications of animal handlers, we help ensure that research-related animal deaths remain rare events.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish and Grand Teton National Park support the research being done by Craighead Beringia South and commend them for their professionalism and vital research data. “While we’re all disappointed in the loss of this kitten, we will continue to support the work of the Teton Cougar Project,” said Tim Fuchs, Jackson District Supervisor for Wyoming Game and Fish. “This research has provided us with valuable information with regard to lion distribution, recruitment, survival and predation.”
Game and Fish officials said they will continue to work cooperatively with researchers of the Teton Cougar Project to monitor the location of the collared female cat.