This is part two of a three part series on cougar management work in Alberta.
So now that you have met the people who are collaring cougars, we are going to take a look at how the work is done. Of course, offering this cougar a necklace just won’t fly – there is a purpose and method in this management work.
It starts with a plan. That plan was developed with the understanding that, in order to make informed decisions on cougar management, we need to understand the current dynamics of the province’s cougar population.
Evidence-based research is critical in making the right decisions. With issues such as increased human-cougar interactions, an evidence-based plan is logical, practical and good for animals and Albertans alike.
It’s all in a day’s work…
The team typically starts the day choosing a portion of the study area they would like to put a collar out in. Detailed maps of the area are essential but weather, locations of collared cougars, and accessibility all play a factor as they head out to search for tracks.
If a fresh set of tracks is found cougars in the area that may have already been collared can be found easily using telemetry equipment. This is an antennae and receiver that can detect the signal from any collars in the vicinity.
If no cougars are detected, the houndsman releases the dogs on the fresh cougar track.
The houndsmen and their hounds have the most important job as none of the collaring can take place without catching the cougar first! Their job is to track and tree the cougar so the biologists can immobilize the cat using a tranquilizer dart. If the cat falls asleep in the tree, the biologists climb up and and carefully lower it down.
Measuring and monitoring the cats
With the cougar safely on the ground and temporarily sleeping, the biologists on the team get to work monitoring vital signs including its temperature and breathing (oxygen, and heart rate). The collar is then fitted around the cougar’s neck and an ear tag is put in.
The biologists are very thorough in their work and make sure they gather all the additional data they need – including measurements of paws, girth, neck size, skull measurements, length of tail and body, body condition and weight. Hair and tissue samples are also taken at this time. The hair will provide the researchers with individual cougar DNA and will help them to analyze the cougar’s diet.
Did you know that biologists can estimate the age of a cougar by its teeth? Gum recession, tooth colour and tooth wear all play a role in this determination.
Once the work is completed, the only things left to do are to administer the reversal of the tranquilizer and monitor the cougar as it recovers and heads out to provide the biologists with additional information on its movements.
What will monitoring accomplish?
The final blog in this series will discuss how data from the collars is collected, provide an outline of how the cougars will continue to be monitored and help to explain why a cougar management plan is important for the province.