Teton Cougar Project HQ, Kelly, Wyoming, December 2014. The 'family tree' shows all the cats that have been tracked and observed since the inception of the study by Elbroch's team
Day breaks on the Gros Ventre river in the Bridger Teton National Forest, western Wyoming, an area which encompasses the heart of the study area of the Teton Cougar Project.
Michelle Peziol and Casey McFarland, biologists and wildlife trackers with the Teton Cougar Project. Before going into the field for an attempt at what will be the last capture of the season they check their database for information on the last known whereabouts of the cougar known to the team as M85. The cat has been a significant individual for the team of biologists in that he is the longest surviving cat in their study.
Connor O'Malley, field technician with the Teton Cougar Project checks his telemetry equipment for radio signals from mountain lions the team have collared for their research in the vast Gros Ventre wilderness area of western Wyoming.
The Gros Ventre wilderness area is approximately 1200sq km. The Teton Cougar project tracks with the aid of snowmobiles to certain points and from there on foot following radio signals. Trackers and biologists will use their astute skills honed over countless hours spent in the wild, to locate a cat and look for any signs that it has been in an area. Once a cat is located it will be 'treed' oftentimes using hounds from where it is then easier or for researchers to dart with a tranquilizer.
Michelle Peziol examines an elk carcass in the Gros Ventre wilderness. Elk can be prey for cougars and an important source of food in the winter. In spring cougar kills of elk and deer will be often stolen by hungry bears emerging from hibernation. This is one of many challenges to cougar numbers in Wyoming. A burgeoning wolf population in Wyoming but also the increasing rate of sport hunting in the region has meant a steep decline of about half the survival rate of cougars. This has led the team to conclude that the primary threat facing cougars is human predation, an entirely preventable one.
Michelle Peziol, biologist and tracker examines the teeth from the remains of an elk.
M85 a 7 year old cougar male weighing 120lbs lies sedated after capture. Casey McFarland, wildlife tracking specialist and naturalist packs snow around M85 to lower his temperature. The cat's eyes are covered to help calm his adrenaline and prevent any stress. Safety of the cat is the highest priority during capture.
M85 a 7 year old adult cougar male, heavily sedated while Dr Elbroch's team carry out their tests and take measurements on the state of M85's health.
Dr Mark Elbroch, director of the Teton Cougar Project leads biologist Michelle Peziol in administration of drugs, examination and collection of samples from mountain lion M85 in the depths of Bridger Teton National Forest, western Wyoming.
M85's teeth a formidable tool in it's survival mechanism.
Many hands help to keep the M85 at a stable temperature and look for a good vein to extract a blood sample from.
Boone Smith, big cat capture specialist & biologist with Dr Mark Elbroch director of the Teton Cougar Project and biologist Anna Kusler. Elbroch is about to take a blood sample from M85 a 7 year old large male cougar which the project has studied for it's entire life.
The tongue of a mountain lion is covered in tiny spines that help in the stripping of meat from bones and for cleaning themselves and their young cubs.
Hind paws of M85
The radio collar taken from M85's neck shows the teeth marks of another cougar most probably a female during courtship.
M85 is measured from head to toe.
Dr Mark Elbroch and his team raise M85 off the ground to check his weight.
M85 the Teton Cougar Project's oldest male wakes up as anesthesia wears off and eyes the camera before taking off again into the wilds of western Wyoming.
Boone Smith, wildlife capture specialist, Dr Mark Elbroch, Teton Cougar Project Director and wildlife cameraman Jeff Hogan head home after a successful capture day in the field. The Teton Cougar Project is entirely funded by private individuals and foundations. Due to pressure also from private individuals in the region especially local hunters and ranchers, as of December 2016 Wyoming Fish and Game will not be renewing the projects license to conduct research during the winter. Some hunters have come out in defense of the importance of the research in understanding the local cougar population.