Howling hounds picked up a cougar’s scent and led researchers deep into the forest, the place the steep hills had been coated with cedars and ferns dusted with snow. The canine chased Lilu, an 82-pound (37-kg) cougar whose collar wanted a brand new battery, up a tree. After being plunked by a tranquilizer dart, the groggy cat climbed down and went to sleep. The crew was in a position to swap her collar, look at Lilu, after which inject her with a drug to wake her.
It was a part of a day’s work for the Olympic Cougar Project, a partnership between a coalition of Native American tribes, a famend cougar knowledgeable, and the Washington Department of Transportation.
The undertaking might result in inserting freeway crossings so wandering cougars – also called mountain lions and pumas – can discover new locations to breed, enhancing the broader atmosphere. The identical species of cat prowls terrain from Canada to Tierra del Fuego.
“Without a doubt, mountain lions increase the health of ecosystems,” mentioned Mark Elbroch, one of many world’s main cougar consultants with Panthera, a wildcat conservation group that’s a part of the Olympic Cougar Project.
When a cougar kills a big mammal like a deer or elk, it can not eat the entire carcass. In the Olympic Peninsula, the apex predator leaves behind a meal for golden eagles, bald eagles, ravens, crows and different birds; mammals reminiscent of bear, weasels, bobcats, and coyotes; and a variety of invertebrates together with all types of beetles.
Like bears, cougars claw salmon out of rivers, serving to fertilise plant species within the woods. The Lower Elwha Klallam, Skokomish, Makah, Quinault, Jamestown S’Klallam and the Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes within the Olympic Peninsula are lending their conventional information to the undertaking, together with the trendy experience of wildlife biologists.
“As an indigenous person, we are taught that we have to walk in two worlds, one of our traditional sense and one of the modern day sense,” mentioned Vanessa Castle, a Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member who works for the undertaking. “I think it changes the way these scientists think about these animals.”
Biologists say huge cats on the Olympic Peninsula have decrease genetic range than the remainder of Washington state as they’re hemmed in by Interstate 5 and lower off from pure breeding companions within the Cascade mountains.
Part of determining the place to construct a wildlife crossing – a observe utilized in habitat conservation – entails monitoring the cougars by becoming them with GPS collars that present a wealth of helpful knowledge. Lilu is amongst about 60 collared cougars on the peninsula. There is not any consenus on the full inhabitants of the elusive, wide-ranging animals.
Glen Kalisz, habitat connectivity biologist with the Washington State Department of Transportation, reveals knowledge he collected about cougar habitats close to Olympia, Washington, U.S., December 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
“The collaring piece gives us information that we just could not get in any other way,” mentioned Kim Sager-Fradkin, a wildlife biologist employed by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
Some 100,000 vehicles journey alongside I-5 every day, blocking cougars and different wildlife from crossing to the opposite aspect of the freeway.
“It is likely one of the worst barriers for all species in the state,” mentioned Glen Kalisz, a habitat connectivity biologist with the Washington state Department of Transportation.
In Southern California, transit authorities are quickly to interrupt floor on a wildlife crossing over U.S. Highway 101, utilized by 350,000 vehicles a day, in one of many final remaining areas the place there may be pure habitat on each side of the freeway.
As with the Washington undertaking, the goal is to enhance cougars’ genetic range.Both the California crossing and the Washington I-5 undertaking are studying from one of many largest such undertakings, alongside a hall of I-90 additional north in Washington, which is about midway by constructing 26 wildlife crossings alongside 15 miles (24 km) of the freeway.