Two of three mountain lion kittens being recorded by researchers at a preserve in Sonoma County have survived to four months old.
The Audubon Canyon Ranch research team video recorded the kittens from a distance earlier this year when they were 10 days old and posted the furry find on the environmental group’s website. The kittens were not handled.
The kittens’ 10-year-old mother was collared with a GPS transmitter in October. The den was found in the Glen Ellen-Kenwood area of Sonoma County and the cubs are the first offspring found as part of a mountain lion study.
Now the kittens are four months old. Quinton Martins, project leader of the ACR Mountain Lion Project, said researchers noticed recently that the mother, known as P1, was staying in one place, indicating she might have made a kill.
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Researchers headed out to the spot and found a big buck deer covered by debris by the mother. Martins knew that the kittens would at four months not be suckling anymore.
Instead, they would be following their mother and feeding on meat. Cameras were set up at the kill site in the Glen Ellen area to find out how many of the cubs had survived and to determine their condition.
A video recorded Saturday revealed that only two were still alive, said Martins.
“Only two of the kittens had survived, but that’s pretty good at this stage,” he said. “Typically their survival rate would be 50 percent.”
Kittens die from disease, malnutrition and predation. Adult male cougars that enter an area sometime kill kittens.
The dead kitten was later found. The carcass will be sent a California Department of Fish and Wildlife office for a necropsy to determine cause of death.
Mother lions will leave offspring for the time it takes to make a kill. During that time, they are defenseless against predators.
The goal of the Mountain Lion Project is both scientific and educational. Researchers want to find out more about behavior, population, extent of range, diet and establish whether the lions can hunt unencumbered by man-made obstacles such as highways.
“For me one of the most important things is to connect people to nature through these iconic and enigmatic animals,” said Martins.