Scientists at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz have developed a tracking collar that can measure the power of a mountain lion's pounce in order to learn more about the cat's hunting strategy.
"What's really exciting is that we can now say, here's the cost of being a mountain lion in the wild and what they need in terms of calories to live in this environment," first author Terrie Williams, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, said in a statement. "Understanding the energetics of wild animals moving in complex environments is valuable information for developing better wildlife management plans."
According to the study, mountain lions - also called cougars or pumas - use a "stalk and pounce" strategy for catching their prey. To figure out just how much energy this technique requires, researchers fit these animals with a "SMART" wildlife collar equipped with GPS, accelerometers, and other high-tech features.
They investigated how much energy the big cats use to pounce, stalk and overpower their prey, which ranges from deer to coyotes to raccoons, as well as looked at other behaviors like resting, grooming and running.
"They are power animals," Williams said. "They have a slow routine walking speed and use a burst of speed and the force of the pounce to knock down or overpower their prey."
"They know how big a pounce they need to bring down prey that are much bigger than themselves, like a full-grown buck, and they'll use a much smaller pounce for a fawn," she added.
By adjusting the amount of energy they put into a pounce to account for prey size, mountain lions use their energy wisely. These findings, researchers say, can better help in management and conservation strategies for the cryptic animals, whose numbers have suffered due to hunting and habitat loss.
The researchers next plan to use their SMART technology on other large carnivores, some of which are threatened or endangered, including wolves and polar bears.
The findings were published in the journal Science.
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