Cougars more social than experts thought, scientist says

By Rob Ollikainen

Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A leading scientist will discuss social interactions of cougars in a Peninsula College Studium Generale program Thursday.

Mark Elbroch, lead scientist for Panthera — a global conservation organization that supports research and sharing science with large audiences — will speak at the college’s Little Theater at 12:35 p.m.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

“It will be science presented in a way that everybody can hopefully follow along,” Elbroch said in a Tuesday interview.

Long thought to be a solitary mammal, the cougar — also known as the mountain lion, panther, puma and catamount — is more social than once thought, according to research that Elbroch conducted in northwest Wyoming.

Elbroch and his team found that interactions between mountain lions are largely driven by reciprocity.

A cougar that shares a kill with another mountain lion is 7.7 times more likely to receive a meal from the same cougar in the future, the research found.

“That kind of shattered everything we thought we knew about the animal,” Elbroch said.

Elbroch’s presentation will include video clips of cougars interacting in wild.

New technology like GPS collars and motion-activated cameras are changing assumptions about the solitary nature of the cougar, Elbroch said.

“Many of our assumptions are based on the fact that we don’t know them that well,” Elbroch said.

A new report from Panthera found that pumas are subordinate to wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and jaguars but are dominate over coyotes and maned wolves. The latter, which lives in South America, looks more like a fox than a wolf.

Elbroch uses a combination of visual footage, his experience and passion for his work to create a “unique and inspiring opportunity that goes beyond the scope of a lecture,” Peninsula College officials said in a Studium Generale announcement.

In his role as lead scientist for Panthera’s Puma Program, Elbroch manages projects and directs data analysis. He has contributed to puma research and conservation in Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, California, Mexico and Chile, and has worked as a wildlife consultant across North America, the announcement said.

Elbroch, who recently moved to the Sequim area, said he plans to conduct research on cougars of the North Olympic Peninsula with a scientist from the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

Several cougar sighting have been reported in the Port Angeles area in recent months.

A Port Angeles police officer reported seeing an adult cougar cross the Tumwater Truck Route in the early morning hours of Jan. 3.

Last summer, an 18-year-old woman shot and killed a 60-pound cougar that she said was stalking her kitten on her property along Black Diamond Road.

If you see a cougar, face the animal and try to appear larger, wildlife officials say. Do not run.

Make sure the animal knows you’re a person, Elbroch said.

“They’ll usually take care of the rest,” Elbroch said.

“They’ll usually disappear if they know you’re a person.”

Elbroch is a regular contributor to National Geographic’s CatWatch blog and has authored and coauthored 10 books on natural history, including two award-winning books on wildlife tracking.

He earned a doctorate at the University of California Davis, focusing on puma ecology in Chilean Patagonia.

A full biography is available on the Panthera website, www.panthera.org.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsula dailynews.com.

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