December 2013 Volunteer Tracking
On Saturday December 28th, a volunteer group visited the ranch to assist with wildlife tracking. Volunteers are contributing this winter to an ongoing mountain lion population survey. The ultimate objective of the project is to identify the number of individual lions on the 9,800 acre property, and to establish land-use patterns.
If we discover tracks, we backtrack the lion to avoid both potential encounters and animal disturbance. We collect DNA samples by way of hair and scat. DNA allows identification of individual mountain lions, and a population to be established.
The volunteers tracked the area the blue dot indicates on the above map. We quickly discovered and mapped a track line.
The yellow line indicates the total area the group covered. The blue line shows the mountain lion track.
It is interesting to note that not all tracks are as clearly identifiable as they appear in most guide books. Both of the above photos show lion tracks, but each is in a different snow surface and experienced different amounts of exposure to freeze, thaw, and rain. Each of the pictured tracks shows the same direction of travel, but the lower print requires closer scrutiny to identify the toes and rear pad.
We followed the lion’s path onto a scree field across a south-facing slope. Due to the aspect, snow cover was poor, and after a short time we lost the track over the bare rock.
We hiked out of the drainage, and it pleased us to see a large elk herd bedded on the neighboring ridge. It was a beautiful day to be on the land, though the snow conditions made tracking difficult.