Caching animals in treesRecently, in your blog, Helen McGuiness stated that she did not feel that deer and other animals cached in trees in the East were the work of cougars as mentioned in my article last month. Ms. McGuiness had suggested that humans might have the ability to cache animals in trees, as do leopards when lions and/or hyenas are present. I believe mountain lions may also learn to cache animals in trees if bears or coyotes are present.
African Leopards do cache deer in trees,,,,,I cannot find a picture anywhere
of a American Jaguar or Puma with a tree cached animal--blogger Rick
Professional opinionsMs. McGuiness asked other professionals whether cougars can cache deer, fawns, sheep and goats in trees. Most said they knew of no mountain lions doing this. Most of these professionals were from the southwest, where I would guess, there are few trees.
Toni Ruth said that cougars were not observed caching prey in trees where there was no overlap with other large carnivores. I would assume that this means that other carnivores could make cougars cache prey, but was unsure due to the wording.
Linda Sweanor had observed small pieces of hide and hair in trees over kills and thought that playful kittens were doing this behavior.
Humans caching animalsIt makes no sense why humans would cache animals in trees, perhaps a prank or two, but not throughout the state. Why not enjoy the venison?
When in doubt about my facts, I look elsewhere.
Coyotes-Wolves-Cougars articleYou had posted an article on this subject in October 2011 from New York http://coyotes-wolves-cougars.blogspot.com/2011/10/viable-cougar-sighting-in-upstate.html . A trail camera supposedly confirmed that a mountain lion put goats in a tree in the Adirondacks.
Database informationI also went back to my database for more local information. I have at least 8 instances of deer/fawns (counting multiple sightings as 2), 2 sheep and a goat in a tree in 6 different counties of New Hampshire. Only one was specifically noted as being in pieces (the goat).See my chart below:
County Year Animal in Tree Comments No. Observer(s)Belknap 2006 Deer Multiple occasions 14 Property ownerCarroll Unknown Deer Multiple occasions 3 Hunters/hikersCheshire 2008 Fawn Saw fawn in tree 24 Snow plow guyCheshire Unknown Sheep Saw cougar sign near sheep pen 7 Farmer/ownerHillsborough Unknown Deer Cached in tree 12 Hunter/outdoorsmanMerrrimack Unknown Deer Saw deer in tree twice 7 Second hand infoMerrimack 2010 Goat Head & hide 20 ft. up tree 6 HunterSullivan Unknown Sheep Sheep disappeared 15 Farmer's neighbor
Unlike most database entries, my cache entries had very little information. Most dates were unknown. There were no photos. I was contacted with the information much later, so I never witnessed any of these tree caches. I do however believe the people who said they saw the dead animals in trees.
IndicatorsNothing indicates that cougars specifically took the animals into the trees other than the folks who found these animals. When asked, each thought that a mountain lion had done it.There were also other cougar sightings or cougar tracks (under No.) in each of the towns where there were tree caches. To me, caching prey seems like typical big cat behavior. Cats are basically lazy, but may put in the extra effort, if needed, to protect their food, other than just by hiding it.
One question raised by professionals was whether these cached animals were complete bodies or parts of bodies. Except for the goat, there were no specific details, but most people were surprised that large deer or sheep bodies were up in the trees. From these statements, I assumed that the prey were mostly intact, not in bits and pieces as a fisher or kitten might do. In the future, I will ask more detailed questions.
These caches seem to be happening throughout the state, mostly in western and central New Hampshire. In three towns, there were multiple instances of caching, indicating that one cat may have learned this behavioral technique for protecting its prey from other carnivores, of which New Hampshire has many.
CarnivoresOne man in my town told me he had 7 bear dens in the woods off one large field. I know of two others near my house. I've had coyotes in/near my backyards in four different towns where I've lived from Coos to Cheshire Counties, which means from northern to southern New Hampshire and in between.I've attached photos of what may be a cougar kill from September 2011. The property owner found the deer covered with grass in a large field next to her house and called me. She has seen other cougar kills in the west and thought it was covered in the same way as those.
There were claw and teeth marks on the neck and shoulders. The deer kill (two days old) was definitely covered as a cat would do, but the entry was in the rear, not the belly. I suspected canines like coyotes had come in, but it wasn't torn apart like canines often do. It was a clean, circular cut. The first day it had been covered with grass and uncovered on the second day. This was my first maybe "cougar" deer kill, so I'll defer to the experts. What do you think?
There was also a matted area on the edge of the woods about 4 ft. long and 18" wide along the tree line where it looked as though the cat had waited to attack. With grass and leaf litter, there were no tracks. This matted area was about 40 feet from the dead deer in the field. The deer often come to feed in this particular field.
We put up a game camera and caught a bear, coyotes and turkey vultures enjoying the deer which was dispatched in another four days, indicating that other carnivores are out there and, if this was a cougar kill, will feed off it.
No cougar came back. On the other hand, cats like fresh kills. By this time, with warm September weather, the deer was bloated and rancid.
Within two weeks of this kill, two other deer were killed in the same area (within ½ mile), but I do not have photos as they occurred before this kill took place. I learned about them later. This would mean about one kill per week in three weeks (not that there could have been other unknown kills off in the woods). There have been 15 big cat sightings in this town which is surrounded by wilderness and mountainous areas with few people.
Other animals that cacheAs to other animals that may have made these caches, Helen McGuiness stated that leopards cache prey in trees, but leopards live in Africa.
It could, however, have been a black jaguar. Jaguars, like leopards, also climb trees, cache their prey and are found in the Americas. They are not supposed to be in New England, but 12% of NH sightings are of black cats. Black cats have been seen in this Hillsborough County town with the deer kill since the 1930s.In October 2011, someone in Chemung County, New York sent a game camera photo of what was thought to be a mountain lion. It was taken on the same mountain where I used to hike as a kid, but to me, it looked like a black cat, not a cougar
. Two wildlife biologists both identified it as a jaguar. One biologist is a felid specialist and the other specializes in South American jaguars.
My personal guess is that some cougars have learned to make tree caches to protect prey from other carnivores like bears and coyotes, but it could also be shy North American black jaguars! More research needs to be done.