Big cats are magnificent, powerful creatures, with incredible stealth and hunting prowess. Their populations are in decline worldwide, caused by habitat loss and conflict with humans. The more we know about these magnificent, powerful animals, the better served the conservation community will be to protect them. (Learn how to help them through National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.)
Volunteer crews with my organization, Adventure Scientists, have captured mountain lions, ocelots and bobcats on camera traps, and found sign of lynx and snow leopard. We’ve used this information to help our research partners learn more about the wild places they study, from Costa Rica to Utah.
Solitary animals, mountain lions live mostly in remote places and are rarely spotted by humans. Weighing in at 85-180 pounds and stretching 7-8 feet long, they hunt by ambush and kill with a powerful bite at the base of the skull, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife. A typical male’s territory is 100-plus square miles, while females range less than 50. The crew caught this mountain lion on a camera trap while working on the American Prairie Reserve in northern Montana in the summer of 2015:
Another crew captured this lion (above) on camera in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of northeastern Utah:
Named for its short bobbed tail, the bobcat is the most populous wildcat in North America, with 725,000-1,020,000 in the wild. At 10-28 pounds and up to 23 inches tall, they’re slightly smaller than lynx, their much less common relative. Early 20th century trapping nearly wiped out bobcats in the eastern and midwestern United States, where they’ve since recovered. We recorded this one in the Uintas:
A team of ASC adventurers in Costa Rica caught this ocelot on a camera trap they set up at Reserva Playa Tortuga this summer. Nocturnal creatures, ocelots weigh up to 40 pounds and can live as long as 20 years. Also known as “painted leopards,” they climb and run with agility, and are good swimmers. The fur trade nearly drove ocelots to extinction, but today they have rebounded; even so, they’re threatened by habitat destruction, poaching and vehicle collisions.