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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cougar predation on bighorn sheep in the junction wildlife management area, British Columbia Harrison, Scott


Seventeen cougars (Felis concolor) utilizing the Junction Wildlife Management Area (W.M.A.) in central British Columbia were fitted with radio collars. All collared cougars within the area were relocated using ground-based and aerial radio telemetry. Relocations were made daily during intensive field work (December-August), and a minimum of four per week the remainder of the year. General site reconnaissance and direct sampling work from 1986 to 1988 revealed 132 prey species mortalities of which 50 were confirmed as recent cougar kills. Although bighorn ewes and lambs (Ovis canadensis californiana) were not important prey items for the cougars, bighorn rams comprised 77.6% of the total mortality sample and 46.5% of the confirmed cougar kills. Cougars selected rams in greater proportion than would be expected based on the availability of rams in the prey population. Poor post-rut body condition and restricted rear and peripheral vision were factors that increased the rams' vulnerability to cougar predation. Cougar predation rates on bighorn sheep and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) were determined for two females with kittens. Kill rates varied from 0.7 - 3.0 ungulates/week. Interactions between cougars and coyotes (Canis latrans) at kill sites influenced the cougars' utilization of kills and predation rates. In 200 km² of the 425 km² study area, 130 coyotes were removed over a two-year period. The predation rate of a cougar with three kittens within the coyote removal area averaged 1.1 kills/week while that of a female with two similarly-aged kittens in the non-removal area averaged 2.6 kills/week. Moreover, observations of cougars abandoning kills following harassment by coyotes, suggested that cougar/coyote interactions were an important part of the system. Poor lamb recruitment and a decline in the number of mature rams in the Junction herd are a concern for the Ministry of Environment (MOE) Wildlife Branch. I make two recommendations that address these concerns: 1. Maintain the resident cougar population without removing cougars. Cougars were not important predators of the lamb segment, nor were cougars keying on the older, larger rams. Moreover, removal of the resident cougar population will disrupt the intraspecific and territorial dynamics of the cougar population resulting in an influx of transient cougars. This, in turn, will lead to the Junction system stabilizing at cougar numbers equal to or possibly greater than pre-removal levels. 2. Initiate an alternating, two-year on, two-year off, February-April coyote removal program until Iamb recruitment remains above 20 lambs/100 ewes throughout a four-year cycle. This program is preferable to cougar removal in that coyote removal can be implemented more effectively on a temporally and spatially scale. Coyote removal will result in an increase in lamb recruitment to the bighorn population, including the ram component. Moreover, fewer rams from this increased population will be killed because of lower cougar predation rates that also will result from the decrease in coyote scavenging/displacement pressures.

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