Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wolves displacing cougars in northwest Wyoming


JACKSON, Wyo. -- Wolves appear to be displacing cougars in and around Buffalo Valley area north of here, according to a local researcher.

Researcher Howard Quigley said six female cougars that had established territories in the Buffalo Valley have either left or been killed by hunters in recent years.

Despite a healthy population of cougars around the Jackson Hole area, no new females have moved in to claim the vacant habitat.

"One of our theories is that wolves are now pushing cougars into habitat that they used to occupy 200 years ago," said Quigley, who leads a team of biologists who track the cats with GPS collars. "Cougars may be concentrating themselves in escape territory."

Escape territory is steeper terrain with lots of trees - land where the cats could more easily elude threats.

At least two females have moved out of Buffalo Valley and into neighboring wilderness, and there is at least one resident male still living in Buffalo Valley now.

"He's got to be a lonely George at this point," Quigley said.

He has produced a map of cougar movements in Yellowstone National Park both before and after wolf reintroduction. Whereas cougars were spread out over the landscape prior to wolf reintroduction, afterward, the cats' territory constricted to areas with steeper terrain.

Despite their formidable size, strength, agility, and claws, cougars are still no match for a pack of wolves.

"It appears that the advantage is to the wolf," Quigley said, explaining that wolves are continuously moving and exploring new territory, making an encounter with a cougar much more likely.

Where wolves killing cougars is not all that rare, he's only confirmed one instance where a cougar killed a wolf.

"There is some very strong repulsion happening," Quigley said. "The jury is still out, but two years from now if no females fill in the Buffalo Valley, I'm going to point to wolf effects."

Information from: Jackson Hole News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6600AP_WST_ Wolves_Cougars.html?source=rss

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