|Li & Gary|
|Gary doing triangulation to identify cougar|
All the collars had two functions: GPS and VHF. The GPS function sends location data every 4 hours, and one can see the movement of the animal on a satellite map, which is good for understanding its movement patterns. VHF function emits high frequency radio signals that a handheld receiver can detect, and is therefore used to track the animal.
|15 yr. old Ford acting up|
Four days went by very quickly and we were only able to hear the radio signals coming out of the marked cougars. Needless to say I had to postpone my return home and do another shift instead. The only promising part was Cumina, the cougaress who seemed to have pitched a den in the beginning section of the valley, suggesting she may have kittens. Triangulation with radio receiver led us repeatedly into an area of dense vegetation. We came as close to her as about 50 meters judging from the strong signal we got. If she continued to stay in the same area when we came back for next shift, Gary said we would capture her to change the collar.
After a few days of break, we headed back to the Blue Mountains. This time we were full of hope, as snow was forecasted. To my great disappointment upon arrival however, the valley ground had no sign of snow!
News came that the satellite collar of the cougaress Marengo had stopped sending signals already as of Jan 22nd. That was strange as we had heard her radio signal very clearly on Jan 23rd. Perhaps the battery was too weak to send satellite signals but still had enough to send radio signals for a couple of more days? This was a setback for Gary's project as they had collected only one year's data from Marengo.
|Ms. Woo found dead|
The next day, before we started hunting for new cougar tracks, we first went in search of the two-year old cougar, Miss Woo, whose collar emitted "mortality" signal the previous morning. We had heard her signals everyday and we all expected it to be just a dropped collar. Never did I expect to find a dead cougar stretched under a tree in the dense vegetation not too far from the road! Miss Woo was in good condition, albeit frozen. She looked healthy, with good amount of body fat. A bit of meat was hanging from the corner of her delicate mouth, probably from the little deer she had hunted and consumed. The possible explanation could be that she choked to death from her food, but we wouldn't know for sure until an autopsy was conducted.
|Carrying Ms. Woo to the truck|
The slope was steep and it would not work to send the hounds from the bottom. Further, it re-enforced our prediction that she had babies, with whom we must be very cautious as the hounds could kill the kittens. We also investigated from top of that hill, which made it look even more difficult to operate. Even if the dogs treed Cumina into a tree, the area she was mostly likely to escape in at the foot of the hills was fronted by a small but steep and icy river, leaving us no room to work even if we managed to cross the river using one of the old fallen trees.
I have never been successful in my first trip to see a particular cat such as leopards and jaguars. I fully expected this was the case with the cougars. My cougar filming project ended here but I fully expect to have better luck the second time round.