The following guest post was written by Puma Project field technician Sean McCain:
Today’s goal was to make a final attempt to access 19F’s den site and collar her two five-week-old kittens so we could monitor them into adulthood. This would be our final attempt because of two factors: The den was located in rough terrain and the kittens would soon be too agile and impossible to catch. Our capture team had also gotten a nasty case of poison oak from a failed attempt the week before.
The morning sun foreshadowed what Paul and I feared the day would become: hot and dry. We looked out across the valley to plan our route through the unforgiving chaparral of El Sereno Open Space Preserve in Los Gatos. There were no easy routes. Bushwhacking would be our only option.
Paul and I made it to the den site and spotted two kittens huddled together. We crawled towards them as they scattered clumsily away. To my relief one was slower and became ensnared in a bush, making his capture swift and gentle.
Unfortunately, the second kitten was a fast runner and after some time I realized I needed to modify my technique. In a final attempt, I crouched behind a wood rat nest and began imitating the kitten’s vocalizations to lure him in.
To my amazement, the curious kitten came sprinting around the wood rat nest, straight into me! I swept him up and carried him back to be processed with his sibling. They were both males.
These kittens not only represent a wealth of new information for us, but a new milestone for our project; these male kittens are numbers 49 and 50.
Paul and I decided to give the restless speed racer the name of Puma 50M.
Tagging kittens will allow us to investigate differences in kitten survival among habitat types and levels of human development. It will also enable us to better collar and track dispersing young lions to their new territories. Understanding kitten survival and dispersal will assist with land use planning in the Santa Cruz Mountains and contribute to the global research and conversation on carnivore ecology, persistence, and management.
Later that night, Paul assessed 19F’s data and confirmed she had returned soon after we left to relocate the kittens to a new den site.