The Secret Social Life of a Solitary Puma

Pumas have a secret social life only recently captured on film, hosting snowy dinner parties for other pumas in the neighborhood.

These big cats-also known as mountain lions or cougars-were long thought to be solitary creatures. But a new study suggests they share many social patterns with more gregarious species like chimpanzees.

Panthera’s Puma Program set up motion-triggered video cameras at 242 common kill locations. They followed 13 Wyoming pumas over 3 years to study their social behavior.

The team expected pumas wouldn’t tolerate another cat at their kills. However in every recorded case, after the occasional spat, they sat down and broke bone.

The study reveals details of puma social dynamics. Older pumas and female pumas were more tolerant in general. Males protected females, in return receiving food and courtship.

Favors went a long way as the cats seem to remember who offered them meals in the past. The researchers used a network analysis (led by Mark Lubell and Michael Levy) to model the interactions in a larger population.  Their data suggests a given puma would be more than 7 times as likely to let a fellow cat eat, if that animal had previously shared its own kill.

It’s not a dine-and-dash society, either. Pumas spent extended periods of time chowing down together, averaging 8 days per kill in the winter and meeting up with different pumas every 10-12 days.

This discovery suggests these “solitary” animals actually have a full social calendar, a complex network we are only just peeking into.

Special Thanks:

Mark Elbroch, Lead Scientist, Puma Program for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization

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