Mountain Lion Dispersal

F61, pauses, paw poised to cuff, when her eager son M80 leaps in to push her from the kill in order to feed. M80, wise to his mother's levels of tolerance, frezes in place and awaits her departure before pushing any further. Photograph by Mark Elbroch / Panthera
F61, pauses, paw poised to cuff, when her eager son M80 leaps in to push her from the kill in order to feed. M80, wise to his mother’s levels of tolerance, frezes in place and awaits her departure before pushing any further. Photograph by Mark Elbroch / Panthera

M80 and F96, young mountain lions followed by Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project, dispersed from their mother’s home range in northwest Wyoming, about April 1st, 2014, when the pair were 19 months old. In northern climates, there is a Spring pulse of young mountain lions setting out to find territories of their own. M80 moved north in one decisive movement, never to return. His sister, F96, was more tentative. Several times, she looped away from her mother and then back again. Upon returning from an exploratory adventure, F96 would find her mother and feast upon her kills. Finally, F96 moved south following the mountains forming the eastern edge of the vast valley called Jackson Hole.

In terms of biology, dispersal is an individual’s one-way ticket away from the area where the animal was born and raised by their mother, or in some cases, their mother and father. Mountain lion dispersal is one of the least known aspects of their ecology, as dispersal is particularly difficult to study in wide-ranging, secretive species. Research suggests that male mountain lions innately disperse to avoid inbreeding with their sisters and mothers. Not only do male kittens disperse more frequently than their sisters, but in general, much further as well. M80 dispersed more than 250 miles in eight months, whereas his sister traveled but 15 miles in the same time frame.

There are several competing hypotheses as to which circumstances trigger dispersal in mountain lions: 1) the timing of female estrous, 2) female conservation of energy, and 3) parent-offspring —> Read More

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