Mountain lions (aka cougars) are very difficult to see in the wild although they exist close to many populated areas in the western US . In fact, they are harder to see than tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and leopards all of which can be seen on safaris in national parks with some luck. We have been lucky enough to see these big cats and the pictures are on this website. Although mountain lions exist in our home town of Los Alamos, most people will go an entire lifetime without seeing one. When they are seen it is often a fleeting glimpse as they cross a road. I assumed we would never see a mountain lion despite living in mountain lion territory.
We saw this mountain lion named Willow at a wild animal park where she had an area that closely resembled her natural habitat making for this natural looking shot (Click). . When I turned my back she even practiced her pouncing skills within her enclosure. I saw first hand why one is told to never turn your back on a mountain lion is encountered in the wild since they could mistake you for prey. Instead, one needs to shout, throw stones and slowly back away while keeping eye contact. Then the lion will likely conclude you are not prey and will leave. One theory on why mountain lions rarely attack humans is that we look very different their normal prey such as deer, elk or even their snacks like raccoons and foxes. Los Alamos is prime mountain lion lerritory since all these prey species exist in great abundance.
In the summer of 2011, the Las Conchas burned 150,000 acres in the forests around Los Alamos prompting a one week evacuation of the town. The town was saved but the forests were badly damaged. Wildlife sightings greatly increased in the months following the fire with deer, elk, bobcats and bears being displaced and seen around town. These animals were often seen sporadically in town even without the fire but mountain lion sightings were rare. Then on Dec 24, 2011 (Christmas eve) our family had a tragic encounter with a mountain lion that we will never forget. Our wonderful pet dog Gwennie was attacked and killed by a mountain lion in our backyard that borders a canyon. According to Game and Fish, this was extremely rare for Los Alamos county and we were the unlucky ones. Other cities such as Boulder, Colorado have had problems with mountain lions snatching pets but this had not occured in Los Alamos to my knowledge. I had read a book called Beast in the Garden by David Baron a few years ago about Boulder's problem and it seemed like Los Alamos had similar conditions. Los Alamos, like Boulder, is in the middle of cougar country and canyons provide corridors for wildlife. The book left me wondering why Los Alamos didn't have problems. There were suspicions that some missing domestic cats in town may have been killed by mountain lions but nothing was known for sure since coyotes also kill many domestic cats. Here are the details of this sad and traumatic encounter: (Click). After Gwennie's death, my mother had the idea to get trailcams at our house and theirs which both border canyons in Los Alamosto to see what wildlife actually visited their house at night. After about 2 months of having the trailcam this enormous mountain lion came to the back pond at my parent's house (above picture)! It came in for a drink at 2 am on May 6, 2012. It happened to be a night of a super moon (the largest full moon of 2012). As we suspected these stealthy creatures are around but after monitoring for years it turns out they are very rare. After he took a quick drink he melted away back into the canyon. We decided to get a white flash critter cam to see if we could get color shots of the wildlife that came at night. Fox, bear, bobacat, deer, racoon all proved to be fairly common visitors. However, it took a full year and 12 days before this gorgeous cougar decided to come by for a drink (Click) (Click) (Click) (Click).
UPDATE 11/9/2013: After almost 2 years a mountain lion returned to our backyard at 1800 Camino Redondo on Pueblo Canyon. Expert James Brookes believes this is a sub-adult due to the large ears and fading spots. But he/she looks healthy. Time will tell if this cougar (Click) will make our yard part of his/her territory or just a fleeting glimpse reminding us that even though the previous couagar was killed another one will eventually replace it in Los Alamos which is prime mountain lion habitat. Unlike the cougar sightings at Los Pueblos, this fellow has been visited every two to three weeks and visited a total of three times. He then moved on confirming that our backyards do not seem to be in the heart of a cougars territory: (Click) (Click) (Click). In March, another cougar, maybe this same one, made its way to Los Pueblos. Suprisingly, it went to the front pond, where we never had camera before. This pond is right next to the front door in a fairly well lit area. There is a lot of human traffic here but it didn't seem to make a difference. Here is a great shot where you can even see the reflection that doesn't show that he is litreally at my parent's front door: (Click). But as he walks away you can see he is right next to the house! (Click). On May 6, 2014, a cougar again made it to Warbler Pond at Los Pueblos showing that early May (5/6/12, 5/18/13, 5/6/14) results in a regular night visit. I was suprised at how regular a visit this is turning out to be meaning this same cougar is likely moving from his winter ground to this summer ground (Click). On September 30, 2014, a majestic male mountain lion came in for a drink and came to the perect spot to get a beautiful sequence of him taking a drink: (Lo-Res Sequence) (Hi-Res Sequence) . In the winter of 2015, we put in some cheap efficient deicers into the ponds to prevent a small sections of the ponds from freezing over. This resulted in our first winter time visit and it happened at my parents front pond on January 9, 2015 (Click).
UPDATE 9/14/2015: All of the pictures so far had been taken by critter cams. After capturing the black and white picture above and then progressing to better and better color critter cams, I was able to get some nice photos of this elusive predator that makes very infrequent visits. Over this time period, I was able to capture fox, bear, deer, racoon, bobcat and coyote using Phototrap that allowed for much higher quality photos using my Canon 7D DSLR. However, my Phototrap setup wasn't water proof requiring good weather in addition to making morning and evening trips to my Parent's place to set it up. After studying the mountain lion sightings and when they occured, I decided to try my luck at capturing the cougar using Phototrap in the summer of 2015. I knew it would require a dedicated effort to better weather proof my setup and to patienty set up day after day until successful. Luckily my wife Gowri allowed me to go forward with this time consuming endeavor to capture the cougar at Warbler Pond with my DSLR Phototrap setup. I also got a lot of help from my parents in helping me setup as well. Here is a description of our attempt: (Click).
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