Through the Eyes of a Cougar Project Cougars & Teaching Above: Students hold a 6-week-old kitten in Washington state. Photograph by Laura Foreman. By Laura Bowers Foreman Project CAT (Cougars and Teaching) Cougars (Puma concolor) predate Science Journalist is taking the scientific partnership a the arrival of humans and have step further by incorporating civics survived, in part, because they have In eastern Washington, scientist- into the environmental education proven to be both adaptable and student collaborations are connecting curriculum, and the result is opportunistic. Partnered with the classroom science with authentic providing students with an enduring Pacific Education Institute, Cle Elum- applications. Now in its sixth year, understanding. Roslyn School District Superintendent
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 1 Mark Flatau has proven that the sharing their experiences as educators boundaries of their understanding CER District can also be adaptable, in their community. Eighth grade of the natural world around them. as teachers and scientists work science teacher Trish Griswold Using science and math, students with students to incorporate the big has worked with CAT students to increase their abilities to observe, cats into their K-12 environmental create CougarWise, a program that identify, measure, and record the education curriculum. Under the teaches local citizens how to live details of their local ecology. Over leadership of Washington Fish and safely among these top predators. the years, they develop the thinking Wildlife Biologist Dr. Gary Koehler, She explains, “The kids who show skills necessary to understand why the students utilize the indigenous an interest in CAT are the ones who landscape provides cougar habitat. By population of cougars to conduct get to go out on the captures and eighth grade, students can begin to go rigorous scientific field research. presentations. The project really out on the captures of wild cougars. Combining field and laboratory motivates them because they have to High school senior Rusty Skurski, work, students learn to see their local get their other assignments done in a veteran of many live cougar environment “through the eyes of a order to qualify.” captures, explained, “Ever since I was cougar.” During their elementary years, in fourth grade, I’ve been learning As students become informed students build their foundation as they about the food chain in the classroom. citizen-scientists, they understand investigate their local environment. The diagrams are beneficial, but when how to better manage human- Whether focusing on baby animals, I got to go out to a kill site and found cougar interactions and can take butterflies, plants, or stream habitat, an elk carcass, it all started to make on leadership responsibilities by students constantly expand the sense. Out in the field, it’s no longer
Below, from left: Alex Hedrick, Marissa Luchau, JJ Lambert, Christina Heath, and Dr. Gary Koehler. Photograph by Ben Maletzke.
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 2 Spencer Ozbolt holds a 4-week-old kitten. Photograph by Laura Foreman.
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 3 Figure 1: Map of adult female cougar’s movements in developing area. Image by Ben Maletzke. just a picture with a bunch of arrows. I was petting one of the greatest respect for these animals grew, and You have to search around and try to predators. I mean, they are at the I could see why a cougar is a perfect figure out what happened – what were top of the food chain. While I was hunting machine. The jaw muscles the movements of the cougar, and measuring his teeth, he was actually are immense. The muscles of their what was its reasoning?” licking me. I was shocked when back legs are quite large, and the Out in the field, students assist I measured his full body length claws on their back legs are straighter Koehler and doctoral candidate Ben and realized his tail was half his – the combination gives them greater Maletzke as cougars are fitted with length. The tail is so limber and yet propulsion when they run. Their global positioning system (GPS) so muscular… it was like griping a front claws, on the other hand, are collars and marked with ear tags. baseball bat.” much more curved – for gripping their Measurements include length, chest One year, Koehler and students prey.” girth, and weight. Using calipers, age located and recovered the body of The GPS collars provide 600 is determined by measuring incisors. a collared female using the GPS location readings for each animal Blood samples are drawn for disease mortality signal. Under Koehler’s per year, and on computer-generated analysis. Tissue samples are used for guidance, students at the high school maps of the study area, students DNA profiling. performed a necropsy. Skurski plot coordinates of cougar locations. After his first capture, Skurski observed, “In the necropsy, I saw Computer programs calculate the remarked, “When I first touched a that every inch of a cougar’s body size of a cougar’s actual territory. cougar (sedated), I couldn’t believe is a ‘six-pack’ of sheer muscle. My With long-term data that shows both
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 4 Alex Hedrick inspects cougar tracks leading into the distance. Photograph by Ben Maletzke.
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 5 size and location of a population of humans and cougars can co-exist.” other students have presented their individual cougars, scientists and College student Kevin White findings at the th7 Annual Mountain students can analyze the habitat range has participated in Project CAT Lion Conference in Jackson Hole, of the species. since its inception in 2001. Now a Wyoming, and to the Kittitas County From his experience with Project senior majoring in wildlife ecology Big Game Management Roundtable. CAT, 17-year-old Sturski concluded, at Washington State University, Gary Koehler explains the success “The cats intend for you not to see he explained, “I grew up always of Project CAT: “Students are our them. Even when they are just camping, fishing, and hunting with colleagues in research, but more waking up after being drugged for the my dad and grandpa… I wanted a importantly, they are the faces and collaring and tests, they are driven by job that I could work outside...” At voices of Project CAT. They are instinct to hide. They are still groggy the university, White has been able to the ones who present our findings and moving slowly, but sometimes I continue his work with Project CAT to the community, to the local civic, loose sight of them and can only find as he assists doctoral candidate Hilary and hunting groups. They’ve even them by searching for the trail they Cooley. She is investigating kitten presented at national conferences. leave in the snow. The cats would survival and correlating predation Their enthusiasm and expertise is prefer to be away from humans. rates to the survival rates for kittens. really impressive. These students They don’t want to risk injury White explained, “Cougars are elusive will be tomorrow’s leaders. Through during an encounter, but there may predators that are seldom noticed Project CAT, they have experience be encounters – especially as more by the public – until people begin to in both science and civics and have people are in the woods or during develop roads and buildings in their an enduring understanding of what the winter. Living in an area with habitats… And yet these cougars is necessary to maintain both public cougars, I have learned that they were can continue to kill deer, conceal it safety and a healthy population of here before people, and we have to in dense brush, and no one knows cougars.” respect that. With proper education, they’re even there.” White and
Below: Hilary Cooley (left) and Kevin White (far right) accompany Ben Maletzke as he holds a 6-week-old kitten. Photograph by Laura Foreman.
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 6 Doctoral candidate Brian Kertson (left) and student Kylie Linde measure a sedated cougar’s teeth. Photograph by Ben Maletzke.
Wild Cat News - www.cougarnet.org 7