Researchers in Sonoma County found a bonus while tracking a female mountain lion: three 10-day-old cougar kittens in a den.
The den was found in the Glen Ellen-Kenwood area of Sonoma County. The cubs are the first offspring found as part of the study.
Researchers had been tracking the kittens’ 10-year-old mother, who was outfitted with a GPS collar. The mother was collared in October when she was traveling with two offspring who were about 11 months old.
Those youngsters took off on their own and the mother mountain lion got pregnant again, delivering the trio of new kittens around the end of March. When GPS indicates a collared mountain lion remaining in an area for more than four hours, it draws the attention of researchers.
The team visits the area as soon as the cat moves on to see if it is a feeding site where a mountain lion made a kill. What is left at the site provides valuable dietary and behavioral information to find out what mountain lions need to survive.
Other times, researchers discover the sites are simply places where the big cats rest. In very rare times, according to an Audubon Canyon Ranch post, the site is a breeding or den site.
The discovery of a den site shortly after birth provides a good starting point.
“The team tracked the female P1 to ensure she was nowhere near,” said Audubon. “When it was determined that she was a considerable distance from the site, the team went in to investigate. Knowing what to look for, they found the the kittens very quickly and documented them by camera, leaving the site all within 10 minutes.”
Mindful of the welfare of the kittens and their mother, researchers will try to check on the offspring during their two months in the den to see if the little ones survive. Once they are 2 months old, they move around with their mother, making them more difficult to track.