Knowing how many mountain lions are in an area is important for conservation, as it would be important to know if the population was in decline or to set the number that can be taken by hunters in a given season.

How is the number of mountain lions in a given area estimated?

  • Locally, the biologists seem to use cameras at water sources. That may rely on having few water sources to focus on though.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 11 '19 at 19:14
  • Hi Charlie! This important question is hard to answer. From my research, estimation methods vary wildly. Factors include: location and land size; study length; reason; cost; type of groups counting; animal age range; inclusion (or not) of subspecies; comparison against previous studies; time of year; changes in predators and prey; accessibility to mates; type of bait; technology; climate and habitat change, and many others. Most methods that work with other animals don't with mountain lions, especially on a large scale. Mar 11 '19 at 20:42
  • Might you want to narrow this down to a specific location or type of "given area?" Otherwise, I just think there are too many variables in play. My statement is not a judgment of the question, it's just based on a number of hours of research. Mar 11 '19 at 20:44
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    @Sue I think its as narrow as it can be while still being useful Mar 11 '19 at 22:38

I honestly do not know for which individual species this method has been used, and in particular whether it has been used for Puma concolor, but a general method that is frequently used for population estimates is "mark and recapture"

In this technique, you enter an area, trap as many of the target species as you can, and mark them, such as with a collar or leg band, keeping a careful count of how many have been marked. Then you come back a while later and repeat the process, counting how many of the newly trapped animals were already marked.

Now, your population estimate is basically a proportions problem from high school math class: M2/C2 = M1/P where M2 is count of marked animals in the second sample, M1 is count of marked animals in the first sample, C2 is the total count in the second sample, and P is the total population. You know the first three of those, and just need to solve for the fourth.

Update: I found this academic paper which indicates at least one study in Montana that has used a modified form of mark-and-recapture on Puma concolor.

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