By RICHARD HINTON
A freezing fog Monday grounded another aerial check on the whereabouts of North Dakota's first mountain lion fitted with a radio collar.
"They were socked in, pea soup. The weather looks favorable tomorrow, and they will try again," Greg Link, assistant chief of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife division, said Monday afternoon.
A flight last week showed the lion remained in the area where it was caught in a foot-hold trap Nov. 25, about 25 miles north of Medora in Billings County. The cat was tranquilized, collared and released Nov. 26.
"It's within a few miles of the release site," Dorothy Fecske, NDGFD furbearer biologist, said Friday afternoon, "and it appears to be recovering well from its capture."
Mountain lions that are drugged, fitted with a radio and released typically "lay low" in the vicinity of their release for about a week, Fecske said, comparing the experience to "probably like a hangover."
The difference with this cat is one of its feet was injured in the trap.
"Its toes are hurting," Fecske said, which probably adds to the time it needs to recover fully.
Her mountain lion research in South Dakota involved tranquilizing and collaring cats, but this is her first time to work with an injured and drugged animal.
In South Dakota, lions caught in bobcat traps "have survived quite well, even though they are missing a toe or two," she said.
Fecske e-mailed photographs of the cat, including close-ups of its injured foot, to a biologist who works with lions for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
"He has no concerns," Fecske said.
Fecske admits she was worried while the cat was under and unable to keep its body temperature at a constant level. The temperature started dropping.
"The weather started turning right after we got to the cat. Its temperature went down to 96 degrees. Iwas concerned it wasn't going to make it," she said. Normal body temperature for a mountain lion is 101 to 102 degrees. She and Link even covered the cat with winter coats.
"I'm feeling better with every day that goes by. It's doing about as expected. It's out of the woods," she said.
NDGFD biologists hope to fly once a week to keep up with the lion's whereabouts.
"It will take a few weeks to get an idea of how its moving. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months," she said.
(Reach outdoor writer Richard Hinton at 250-8256 or richard.hinton@;bismarcktribune.com.)