POWELL, Wyo. (AP) - Mountain lions, it’s long been thought, are solitary predators that spend their lives avoiding each other.
Not so fast.
Maybe mountain lions aren’t so antisocial after all.
Dr. Mark Elbroch suggested at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West Draper Natural History Museum’s Lunchtime Expedition in Cody Aug. 7 that mountain lions co-mingle more than once thought.
Elbroch, project leader of Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project, has studied mountain lions for 10 years.
Members of the big cat family seem to avoid one another, mostly.
“Thirty-five of our wild cats are solitary animals,” Elbroch said. The exceptions are African lion prides (social units) and African/Asian cheetahs that establish temporary male coalitions, he said.
Since 2001, 124 lions have been identified and tracked in Panthera’s Wyoming study area, Elbroch said.
The project spans the Gros Ventre Range, Grand Teton National Park, National Elk Refuge and the Teton Wilderness Area in Bridger-Teton National Forest, surrounding the towns of Moose, Moran and Kelly, said Panthera’s website at www.panthera.org/programs/cougar/teton-cougar-project .
Panthera’s findings, supported by GPS radio tracking, suggested mountain lions are not so solitary and even help each other.
GPS collars have revolutionized studies by reporting nearly at real time where the lions are, Elbroch said.
GPS collars track lion movements, identify dens and monitor kittens from an early age, according to the website.
It was thought that mountain lions interact only when the female is in heat or during a territorial dispute, Elbroch said.
Previous research suggested 75 percent of interaction involved male-female courtship, but in the last two years 57 percent of interactions between different lions documented were at a kill made by one of the two lions. Both sexes have shared kills with the opposite sex or the same sex.
“Some food sharing is driving the interactions,” Elbroch said.