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Predation behaviour of Vancouver Island cougar (puma concolor Vancouverensis) and its relation to micro- and macroscale habitat Gladders, Aaron D.

Abstract

Little is known of the relationship between cougar (Puma concolor) predation and habitat. I investigated cougar predation on North Vancouver Island to determine species, sex, age and condition of prey and microsite and macrohabitat characteristics of feeding sites. Nine radio-collared female cougar were relocated using radiotelemetry from October 1997 to May 1998. Sixty-five feeding sites were located through a combination of intensive triangulation, DGPS and use of a trained Labrador retriever. Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) comprised the majority of prey in addition to a raccoon (Procyon lotor) and grouse (Dendragapus obscurus or Bonasa umbellus). Three Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti) were also found killed by male cougar radio-collared as part of another study. Sex and age of deer killed by cougar appeared to correspond to historical estimates for my study area, although estimates were not available during my study. Deer condition appeared to follow common ungulate fat reserve trends during the course of predation sampling, indicating deer condition was not a factor in their capture. An average annual kill rate of 22.6 deer per female cougar was estimated, although observed interference competition from black bears out of hibernation may increase this rate. Feeding sites were found in areas of dense horizontal cover, presumably associated with cougar hunting style, and/or corresponding to microhabitat use by deer during winter. Feeding sites were closer to roads, at lower elevations and in proximity to young and old growth forests, more than expected. These sites correspond well to studies of deer macrohabitat use.

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