Finally time to post a cougar entry. Days have been warm, so when we’ve had snow, it melts off quickly. But I’ve had two interesting cougar tracking experiences.
Several days after a very nice snow I ventured out to an area where I’ve seen cat tracks many times. Its a landscape full of boulders with low cliffs easily passable for humans–perfect cougar tracking. I headed straight for some high cliffs where I found cougar tracks last year, and lo and behold, there were fresh puma tracks. Because the terrain is fairly easy, I was able to follow these tracks for over an hour, mostly up, down and over boulders. A coyote occasionally mirrored this cougars’ trail.
Moving with an easy gait, occasionally jumping high up on a boulder or down into a gully (where I had to go around. Following a cougar isn’t easy), the cougar stopped on a rock at an overlook to size up the terrain. All this indicated that this cougar was relaxed.
I’d seen wolf tracks when I began early on, but not coinciding with my cougars tracks. Yet suddenly the wolf pack’s tracks appeared atop a ridge, fresh as the cougars’. The wolves and the cougar headed down a narrow path to a ravine below, where I lost the cougar tracks in an array of wolf tracks. I searched everywhere but the plethora of canine tracks obscured all other sign. What were those wolves doing? There was no sign of a kill in the area. Usually Koda is pretty good at finding carcasses when I can’t. I even went back on another day, combing the area for a kill, but nothing.
A few days ago I hiked up the mountain behind my home. A series of terraces stair steps up the mountain side. It’s a north facing wooded area and some of the shelfs are quite steep. I climbed fairly high when I came across a fresh cougar track. The cat scrambled to the next level, the final mesa before the mountainside turns to scree. It’s an area full of large boulders. The cougar easily and deftly walked up the slope toward a giant granite boulder which she jumped on top of. Yet what caught my attention were the wolf tracks that ran right in front of the boulder and over the cougar tracks–same freshness. Here again were cat and canine tracks together.
Again losing the cat tracks, I followed the wolf tracks back to the woods by my house. There I found not only cougar and wolf tracks, but a deer kill already picked over by birds, probably from the night before. Did the cougar kill the deer, only to be driven off by the wolves?
So, this leaves me with more questions than answers. Do wolves keep a pretty good bead on cougars? Cougar kills are easy food for other predators and that’s why they take time to cover their kills. But what were those wolves doing around that cougar on my first tracking excursion? What kind of competition are those wolves presenting to that cougar? And it also lead me to think about people who hunt cougars with dogs. Eight dogs have been killed by wolves in Montana this year while hunting cougars. Are those dogs more susceptible to being caught and killed by wolves because they are following cougars? There have been a series of dogs lost in Sunlight over the years, some for a few weeks, yet all the lost dogs have turned up, not killed by wolves. Yet a few years ago a hound hunting cougars was killed by the wolf pack.
I am curious about the relationship between cougars and wolves, two top predators competing for similar prey.