Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Well-known mountain lion dies of plague in Grand Teton N.P.

Well-known female cougar dies from plague
Carcass found in Grand Teton National Park.

By Cory Hatch, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: January 13, 2010

A female cougar popular among local researchers for her propensity to wander around Jackson Hole has died of plague in Grand Teton National Park, a park biologist said.

Scientists from Craighead Beringia South, a Kelly-based research institution with a permit to conduct work in the park, learned the animal had died through its Global Positioning System collar sometime within the last 30 days, said Grand Teton’s senior wildlife biologist, Steve Cain. The 6-year-old cat, dubbed F13, was featured in an article in the winter 2009-10 edition of Jackson Hole Magazine. Craighead Beringia South researchers were not available to discuss the animal Tuesday night.

Cain said the dead cat was found at the southern end of Grand Teton National Park near the base of the Tetons.

“It was in an area that almost certainly would not have been discovered if this animal had not been radio collared,” he said.

Researchers later confirmed that the cat died of plague. Counting F13, at least five cougars have died of plague in the Greater Yellowstone Area in recent years. In the summer of 2008, a Boy Scout contracted the disease during a visit to Jackson Hole and later recovered. The disease is naturally occurring in the region, and researchers say the bacteria does not pose much of a threat to the overall cougar population.

“We’ve known that the cats in this area can carry plague,” Cain said. “We are aware that it’s in the area, but we have not had any specific mortalities associated with it or human concern with it. [The finding] won’t result in anything different on our part.”

The bacteria can infect domestic cats and humans. Cats can contract the disease by either eating a rodent infected with the plague or by getting bit by a flea that carries the bacteria. It poses the most danger to humans if the bacteria is inhaled into the lungs, causing pneumonic plague. The disease has caused five human deaths in Wyoming since 1978.

In October 2007, Eric York, a biologist from Grand Canyon National Park, died of plague after conducting a necropsy of a cougar in his garage. Cain said the National Park Service has since adopted more stringent protocols for employees who come in contact with dead animals to limit the spread of the disease to humans.

F13’s death “was a timely news piece to remind people of the hazards of handling dead animals,” Cain said.

F13 gave birth to at least two kittens in recent months. Cain said it is National Park Service policy not to intervene in situations such as orphaned kittens unless a human is involved.


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