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Wandering mountain lion tracked 558 miles to Mesa Verde National Park

Cougar settles in park after five-month journey from central New Mexico

A roaming young mountain lion has arrived at Mesa Verde National Park after traveling 558 miles from central New Mexico, according to wildlife officials.

The young male was fitted with a GPS collar by the Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources on Feb. 12.

Nicknamed “Squeaks,” the lion, estimated to be 1 to 2 years old, left the Santa Ana Pueblo north of Albuquerque on July 5. On his journey north, he wandered across the Navajo Nation, swam across Navajo Lake twice, then entered Colorado on Aug. 24.

Regular updates about his progress are posted on the Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources Facebook page, which is followed by his fans.

He spent some time along the Florida River south of Durango and made several attempts to move northward but would turn back after running into open agricultural lands and scattered development, wildlife officials said.

He tried to move west but apparently was scared by U.S. Highway 550. On Sept. 28, Squeaks crossed the highway under a bridge at mile marker 2.

A video provided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife showed him drinking from a water trough south of Mancos on Sept. 30, and GPS tracking shows Mesa Verde National Park might be his new home.

It’s not unusual for a young male mountain lion to travel great distances to find territory to settle in, said Ken Logan, a mammals researcher with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Montrose office.

“At that age, they are like mountain lion teenagers. They become independent from their mothers and disperse away from their natal area,” he said.

In this case, the traveling young male was likely testing out potential territories, Logan said.

Many factors come into play, such as adequate prey, good cover, whether there are females to breed and whether there is a dominant male in the territory already.

“Along the way, he’s taking down prey, growing, getting stronger and more experienced. That helps to get more competitive and give a new territory a try,” Logan said.

Mesa Verde is good mountain lion habitat, he said. The vast network of canyons and foothills provides good cover and refuge, and there are mule deer, elk and smaller mammals.

Statistically, male lions usually leave their home range, Logan said, whereas about 50% of female lions establish adult home ranges where they were raised. By traveling far, males minimize inbreeding.

To date, Squeaks’ GPS collar has collected 2,925 locations. The collars are programmed to collect a location every two hours, and those positions are transmitted to a satellite twice per day. After about one year, the collar is programmed to drop off.

Squeaks is one of two surviving kittens born in October 2018 at the confluence of the Rio Jemez and Rio Grande rivers, according to Santa Ana Pueblo wildlife officials.

After receiving his GPS collar at 15 months old, he stayed with his mother, “Notch,” and sister until April 2020. Then, as young males do, he set out to explore beyond his home range in search of new territory July 5.

He has survived along the way by eating elk calves, deer fawns, porcupines, raccoons and other animals.

“We wish this 2-year-old lion good luck and safe travels,” the Santa Ana Pueblo Department of Natural Resources said. “We’re still not sure if Mesa Verde National Park will become his new home, but if it does, at least we know he has good taste in real estate.”

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

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