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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teton Tuesday: Just around the bend...

I have been working for the Tejon Conservancy for almost two years now, and as 2015 draws to a close I am struck by how fast that time appears to flown by, while also containing so many remarkable memories. It feels like just the other day I was timidly venturing out into the ranch interior for the first time, trying desperately (and failing, ultimately) not to get lost; and yet when I consider all the incredible experiences I have had traipsing across this enchanting landscape, it is hard to believe I’ve only had a key for 22 months. I believe that part of the reason for this temporal dissonance has to do with the way in which remarkable experiences tend to occur out on the ranch. That is abruptly, without warning and more often than not when I am under-caffeinated, half awake and least expecting anything of interest to run across my path.

Such was the case two mornings ago while I was driving the Hual rd. along the north slope of Winter’s Ridge. I was heading out to set survey cameras around a remote spring when I turned a sharp bend in the road only to find not one, but three full grown mountain lions barely 10 meters from my truck, happily gorging themselves on the remains of a boar. Upon seeing me they flushed, and disappeared down the canyon before I even became fully aware of what I was watching! I was left stunned, with only the ravens overhead cawing out their thanks for giving them a chance at the fresh meat. Before continuing on I got out and surveyed the kill site, and was surprised at the formidable size of the pumas’ prey. The lions had worked their way through most of what used to be a very impressive boar, with large tusks, healthy teeth and powerful shoulders. This was not a score these cats would abandon very long, so I buried one of my cameras into the hillside facing the carcass in the hopes of recording them upon their return.

Mountain lion encounters, however unexpected, fleeting and occasionally nerve-racking, remain one of the rarest and most exhilarating experiences one can have on Tejon, or anywhere for that matter. Ask any Conservancy staff member, or anyone that spends enough time in the woods, and they will gladly relate to you in vivid (and only very slightly exaggerated) detail, every such encounter they have ever had, as these events crystalize in one’s memory like only the wildest and most beautiful experiences in life can. While population management strategies surrounding mountain lions remains an ongoing debate statewide, I believe it is important to appreciate these apex predators as the living embodiment of the unadulterated wildness that can be seen dying out all across the globe and that we at the conservancy fight to protect every day.   
Before the cougars returned, this golden eagle took advantage of the unguarded kill
A couple hours after my departure, the first of the puma returned and quickly reclaimed her prize

This next cat was a little late, but can clearly still smell blood in the air

She makes do on the scraps of what remained