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August 18, 2017

On a Quest to film the Neighborhood Mountain Lions

Patience is only one part of the equation to successfully film mountain lions in their natural environment. I’m the first to admit that patience isn’t one of my strongest characteristics. It can take weeks, sometimes months before a big cat cruises in front of a trail camera. The other crucial detail is finding a good location for the camera, an area that’s attractive to pumas. Mountain lions don’t normally saunter over to cameras and take selfies. There has to be a reason for them to be in the area. Food, sex and territorial patrols are high on the list.

A couple of months ago we placed one of the cameras on a game trail facing a popular watering hole. The local wild life and feral cats frequently visited the pool to quench their thirst. Unfortunately, last week, the hot days took their toll—the creek dried up. No longer is it an oasis for the deer, a favorite meal for mountain lions. Although the lens didn’t catch mountain lions or bobcats, it did film the antics of skunks, foxes, possums, deer, raccoons and house cats.

There is lots of talk about local mountain lions

Yesterday we relocated the camera up the road on a friend’s property. Recently, he and his neighbors have seen a number of mountain lions. They’ve observed the big cats crossing roads and hanging out in the woods near their homes. Sadly, many of their pets have disappeared. Most likely, one of the reasons the lions are hanging out in the ‘hood is because the human residents aren’t keeping their dogs and cats safe inside. From the puma’s perspective, it’s easier and safer to catch a cat or dog than a large deer with dangerous hoofs. (Please neighbors, keep your pets inside where they are safe!)

Jinniyha, one of the author’s cats checking out the footage--looking for mountain lions

Jinniyha, one of the author’s cats checking out the footage. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

Mountain lions are hunters and scavengers

Although mountain lions favor deer, they are opportunistic hunters. Being practical opportunists, they don’t limit themselves to venison. Smaller prey including rabbits, raccoons and house pets are sometimes included on the menu. In addition to hunting, the large cats will also scavenge. Fresh road kill is not off limits. It makes sense—hunting takes lots of energy and can be dangerous. Prey, fighting for their lives can severely injure pumas with their hoofs and teeth. Hunting isn’t always easy.

Puma’s don’t eat a whole deer in one sitting. Instead they cache it for future meals, visiting the carcass periodically for a gnosh. Usually the mountain lions cover them with dirt and leaves to make them less obvious to other predators.

It would be ideal if we found a cached carcass to focus the camera on. We didn’t.

Mountain lion enjoying a meal. Photo by Freestock

Mountain lion enjoying a meal. Photo by Freestock

Looking for other evidence of mountain lions

Besides the remains of meals, there are other subtler signs to look for. Lions mark and leave scent for other conspecifics by scraping, urine and feces marking and they score trees and logs. Their paw prints are recognizable by their shape, especially the palm paw pad. The 3 lobes on the bottom part of the pad forms an “m”. And of course, let’s not forget the poop, technically and more politely referred to as “scat“.

Planting the trail camera

After scouting around, we set up the trail camera next to a creek in a deep ravine that is deep in brush. We focused it up a game trail that deer habitually use. Nearby are deeply scored trees and logs that may be announcements that a big cat is periodically patrolling the area.

The trail camera is now located in an area with deep brush. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

The trail camera is now located in an area with deep brush. Photo by Marilyn Krieger

The only thing left to do is wait and practice patience. In 30 days we will visit the camera and see what it has caught.

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Do Mountain Lions and Domestic Cats Scratch Objects for the Same Reasons?

Everything about mountain lions fascinates me, and I hope that by using a trail camera I can capture videos of at least one of them engaging in natural behavior. Because I’m a cat behaviorist, I’m especially drawn to the behavioral similarities and differences between mountain lions and domestic cats. With a little luck and patience, our trail camera may catch a mountain lion scratching.

My boy friend George and I are fortunate to live on the San Francisco Peninsula near an area rich with a diversity of wild life. About 3 minutes from home, we found a good spot for the trail camera—on the bank of a creek near a couple of trees that appear to have long claw marks high up on them. We focused the camera down a game trail that leads to a pooled area in the creek. This seemed to be a good location for capturing images of four-footed locals quenching their thirst. I think we chose a good spot—check out the video of this lovely doe and her spotted fawn.

One big difference between mountain lions and domestic cats is that cougars are apex predators and cats aren’t. Although in other areas they have bears and packs of wolves to contend with, in the San Francisco Bay Area, mountain lions are at the top of the food chain—nothing eats them. Here, their primary enemies are people. Domestic cats are predator as well as prey. Although they’re skilled hunters, larger predators view them as potential meals.

Mountain lions are apex predators. Photo by Stock Free Images

Cougars are apex predators. Photo by Stock Free Images

Cats use their paws for scent-marking

Except in specific circumstances, both mountain lions and domestic cats are solitary hunters—they hunt alone, and, with the exception of family groups, they eat alone. Pumas who are mating and siblings newly on their own, also will eat and hunt together. Both species are also territorial, with intact males being much more so than females. Animals who are territorial and generally avoid each other need ways to advertise for mates, indicate status and define their territories without having potentially fatal encounters with each other. In addition to vocalizing, they achieve this is by scent-marking.

Two mountain lion cubs. Photo by Stock Free Images

Two mountain lion cubs. Photo by Stock Free Images

There isn’t a lot of information available about mountain lion behavior. We do know that like domestic cats, they have scent glands on different areas of their bodies, including the bottoms of their paws. Both claw objects with their front paws, leaving marks. Cougars will also rake the ground with their back paws and occasionally with one front paw.

Mountain lions stretch and reach up high to scratch trees, and they also scratch logs—leaving deep claw marks. Small, domestic cats do an abridged version, scratching on posts, horizontal surfaces, furniture, trees and other objects. When domestic felines and their feral cousins scratch, scent is left behind—signposts rich with information about the scratchers.

Cats have scent glands at the bottom of their paws. Photo by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Cats have scent glands at the bottom of their paws. Photo by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

The scent deposited by domestics along with the physical scores communicates vital information about them. Among other things, it can advertise that a female is looking for boyfriends, be an indicator of social status, and serve as a “no trespassing” sign. Additionally, cats claw objects when they feel stressed and conflicted, and it helps maintain claws—feline pedicures at their best. Although we know why domestic felines scratch, we don’t know why mountain lions scratch trees and logs. We do know why they rake the ground, though.

Mountain lions mark through scraping

One of the ways mountain lions scent-mark is by scraping dirt into small mounds with their back paws. This behavior is exhibited mostly by males in cleared areas, on trails and next to partially consumed meals. Often they deposit feces inside the raked area or on top of the small pile of earth. One study found that the frequency and locations for scraping depend on how many other mountain lions are in the area.

After two weeks, our trail camera finally caught a video of a cat clawing a tree—not quite who we were expecting. At least we know there are felines in the area.

I have so much to learn about mountain lion behavior. I’ve only started scraping the surface—thank you Felidae Conservation Fund and the Bay Area Puma Project for guidance and fact-checking.

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

 

Do Not Punish Cats

03.22.2015 Do not punish cats when they do unwanted behaviors. When cats act out they’re not being bad. They’re responding to an event or circumstances in their environment. Because punishing cats can make them more stressed and feel insecure, it can escalate problems and cause others. Punishment also ruins relationships. Kitties associate the punishment with the punisher—it breaks the bonds between them and their people.

Instead of punishment, identify and then address the causes of the behaviors. Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. Once the reasons are pinpointed they can be addressed—cats taken to vets, litter box situations improved, neighborhood cats managed, etc.
For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Don’t punish cats. Instead, identify and address the causes of the behavior.

Don’t punish cats. Instead, identify and address the causes of the behavior. by Shutterstock.

Help Feral Cats Survive the Winter

02.22.15 Help feral cats survive the winter by building simple shelters for them. Take two large, but different sized plastic storage bins that fit inside each other—with about 3-6 inch clearance on all sides. The smallest box needs to be large enough to comfortably house at least two cats. After measuring and creating a template, cut “U” or “O” shaped entrances in one side of both bins, making sure they align. Put insulating material on the bottom of the large bin and then place the smaller one inside it. Stick straw, egg cartons or other insulating materials between the two boxes to help keep them warm. Straw on the bottom will also help with warmth and make the make-shift shelters more comfortable. Put the lid on the smaller box, put insulating material on top and then snap the cover on the large box. Face them away from the wind and against walls or other structures so that they do not blow away.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook

Cats Scratch Objects When Stressed

02.01.15 Cats will do a number of behaviors when they feel stressed or conflicted. In addition to self-soothing, many of these behaviors help change or eliminate the causes of the stress. Scratching objects is one of these. Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including when they are anxious and conflicted. While helping them cope with their feelings, they are marking their territories when scratching.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed. by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Best Cat Carriers for Veterinarian Visits

01.25.15 Vet visits are notoriously stressful for cats and people. The best cat carriers for veterinarian visits are hard shelled with detachable tops. Tops are easily removed, allowing veterinarians to do partial and sometimes complete exams while the cats are still in their carriers.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Train Cats to Scratch the Right Furniture

Set up for success: cat scratching info-graphic

Many cats are unnecessarily declawed because they scratch household furniture. Although cats have to scratch, they can be easily trained to scratch appropriate objects and avoid scratching couches and carpets.

This info-graphic describes why cats have to scratch and how you can train cats to scratch the right furniture. It is my hope that it will help keep cats from becoming declawed. It first appeared in an article I wrote titled How to Train Cats to Scratch Only Where They Should for Catster.com

You are welcome to use and distribute it as is, without alteration.

Cats can be trained to scratch the right furniture by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Make Cat Carriers Fun for Cats

Cats can be persuaded without being stressed or traumatized to willingly go into their carriers. Start by keeping the carrier out at all times—your cat will become used to it. Than encourage her to hang out in it by giving her treats and playing with her in it. Place an article of clothing with your scent on it in the carrier to help reassure her that it is not a scary place. Make cat carriers fun for cats.

Leave cat carriers out.

Leave cat carriers out. by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC.

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Jacobson Organ

01.11.15 Cats have a couple of organs that allow them to smell odors. One is the nose. The other is the Jacobson organ, also referred to as the vomeronasal organ, located in the hard palates of mouths. It is used for primarily smelling pheromones as well as other odors. Your cat isn’t just making a funny face when she is grimacing, wrinkling her muzzle and opening her mouth—she is flehmening, opening the passage that leads to the organ in order to sample specific odors.

Cat flehmening

Cat Flehmening by Shutterstock.

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Some Cats Eat and Drink with Their Paws

01.04.15  Some cats eat and drink with their paws; scooping food and water from their bowls before eating. The bowls may be too narrow and deep or in poor locations. Whiskers, with their own nerves and blood supply, are sensitive. Some cats are bothered by the sensation of their whiskers touching the sides. It is also difficult for cats to see possible threats when they are eating out of deep bowls. Bowls should be shallow and wide so that whiskers don’t touch the sides and views aren’t obstructed. Locations matter too. Cats need to feel safe while eating. Place bowls in quiet areas, away from other resident animals and threats; in places kitties can see and escape possible threats.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.