Environment & Science

The secret, social lives of mountain lions

FILE - This Feb. 9, 2015, file photo, released by the National Park Service, taken from a remote camera in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near the Los Angeles and Ventura county line, shows a female mountain lion identified as P-33. She is one of several mountain lions observed in and near urbanized areas in greater Los Angeles.
FILE - This Feb. 9, 2015, file photo, released by the National Park Service, taken from a remote camera in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area near the Los Angeles and Ventura county line, shows a female mountain lion identified as P-33. She is one of several mountain lions observed in and near urbanized areas in greater Los Angeles.
National Park Service via AP

Listen to story

03:49
Download this story 3.0MB

A lone hunter stealthily stalking its prey; a shrill cry in the night.

Mountain lions may conjure terrifying images in our minds, but researchers show that our fears might be based on mythology rather than scientific observation.

Mark Elbroch, a wildlife biologist with the Panthera Puma Program, has been studying these big cats for 15 years — and the 100,000 videos he collected of mountain lions in their natural habitat reveals a whole secret world.

His highly-sensitive cameras allow him to see inside the den of a mountain lion and observe all the interactions between mother lions and its kittens.

There's the little chirp the kitten makes when it greets its mother, and the louder purr the mother makes when she calls to its kittens.

Here are two myth-busting facts Elbroch shared about these big cats:

Fact #1:

Far from being lone hunters of our nightmares, mountain lions are very social animals and they rarely hurt each other.

"You've got these huge male sons of mothers that have already outgrown their mothers and the mothers are just rolling with them and licking them," Elbroch says. "They sleep in these huge cuddle puddles, as interns like to call them."

Fact #2:

The infamous mountain lion scream? That's actually a female in heat.

It is not, as many wildlife biologists have thought it to be, the sound of an angry, hungry male about to attack.

When managing mountain lions in the future, Elbroch hopes that wildlife agencies can just focus on removing individual problem cats — with the help of his motion-triggered remote cameras — instead of relying on open hunting seasons.

Copyright 2016 Wyoming Public Radio Network. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio Network.