The Secret, Social Lives Of Mountain Lions

Mar 31, 2016
Originally published on April 1, 2016 5:46 pm

A lone hunter stealthily stalking its prey; a shrill cry in the night.

Mountain lions may conjure up terrifying images in our minds, but researchers show that our fears might be based on mythology rather than scientific observation.

Mark Elbroch, a wildlife biologist with the Panthera Puma Program, has been studying these big cats for 15 years — and the 100,000 videos he collected of mountain lions in their natural habitat reveal a whole secret world.

His highly sensitive cameras allow him to see inside the den of a mountain lion and observe all the interactions between mother lions and their kittens.

There's the little chirp the kitten makes when it greets its mother, and the louder purr the mother makes when she calls to its kittens.

Here are two mythbusting facts Elbroch shared about these big cats:

Fact No. 1: Far from being lone hunters of our nightmares, mountain lions are very social animals and they rarely hurt each other.

"You've got these huge male sons of mothers that have already outgrown their mothers and the mothers are just rolling with them and licking them," Elbroch says. "They sleep in these huge cuddle puddles, as interns like to call them."

Fact No. 2: The infamous mountain lion scream? That's actually a female in heat.

It is not, as many wildlife biologists have thought it to be, the sound of an angry, hungry male about to attack.

Elbroch hopes that when managing mountain lions in the future, wildlife agencies can just focus on removing individual problem cats — with the help of his motion-triggered remote cameras — instead of relying on open hunting seasons.

Copyright 2016 Wyoming Public Radio Network. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio Network.