A pretty amazing week

Last week I was out of town to visit family and friends in Texas.  I was gone for the entire week and it was great to catch up with everyone.  Just before I left, I checked some of my remote cameras I have out in Topanga (placed with the objective to get pictures of B290), and I discovered another bobcat with notoedric mange in the area.  The mange on this bobcat, like B290's when I caught him, is not yet a severe case.  So, a primary objective I had upon returning from Texas was to get traps set for the mangy bobcat.

Like B290, I hope to capture him, treat him for the mange, get samples, and if I'm lucky, put a radiocollar on him (assuming a collar happens to be available- they are expensive so I rely on collaborators to provide the collars).  I finally got everything together and on my way home from work at UCLA, was going to set a few traps on Tuesday.  However, Jeff Sikich called me to tell me that a trap was set for P19 and let me know he'd be waiting near the trap that evening to see if she decided to go into the cage trap.  So, instead of setting traps for bobcats, I decided to put it off for a day and go try to see a mountain lion! 

We waited for P19 until around 8pm, and although she was near the trap (we know because she had a GPS-enabled radiocollar and could determine her location using the radiocollar signal), we were skeptical she would go into the trap.  She'd already been cage-trapped two times, and some animals will eventually wise-up to the trapping methods we use to capture them.  So, we called it a night, though left tracking equipment with a project volunteer, Julie, that happens to live near the trapsite and could hear the trap signal from her house (we had a radio-transmitter on the trap that would emit a specific radio-signal if it was triggered)!  So, periodically through the night, Julie listened to the trap and at 1:30am, success!  The trap was triggered and P19 was in the trap vicinity!  We wouldn't know if P19 was actually in the trap until we physically checked the trap.  So, upon getting the call at 1:30am, we went to the trap site and in the dark, we hiked to the trap with all the capture gear in tow in case it was P19 in the trap.  And indeed, she had gone into the trap.  We drugged her in order to get samples and change her radiocollar.  The radiocollar she was already wearing was placed on her before she had her last big growth spurt, so it was time for her to get a larger collar.  To drug her, we blowdarted her through the cage, and since she was very mellow and calm in the cage, all went smoothly with the drugging.  Upon drugging her, we would have approximately 1 hour to get samples, assess her health, and change her collar.  All went well and after 1 hour, she was off, recovering from the drug and walking back into the mountains, her natural habitat.  We walked out of the trap site and were back at our cars at 4am.

With samples in tow, I now had to begin processing them.  At captures, because my overall 'bobcat disease susceptibility' project relies heavily on blood samples, I have taken on the responsibility to process all blood samples collected at captures that I am present for- mountain lion, bobcat, or fox.  Some blood samples we collect at our captures require that we centrifuge them for approximately 20 minutes ASAP and then flash freeze the samples in liquid nitrogen.  Usually we have a centrifuge that we carry with us in one of the National Park Service vehicles, but having been woken up in the middle of the night, we didn't have the right vehicle with us this time.  Luckily, we weren't too far from the NPS warehouse that also has a centrifuge.  I headed straight there to start tending the samples.  These samples that reqire the most immediate of care will give us information about the clotting time of the individuals from which we collect samples.  They are called PIVKA samples, which stands for 'proteins invoked in Vitamin K absence.'  Using these samles, we will assess whether animals exposed to anticoagulant rat poisons are experiencing the intended action of the poisons- to disrupt the Vitamin K cycle that is fundamental to the production of several critical clotting factors in the blood.  I was able to finish processing those samples by 6am and had a liquid nitrogen container in my car that I froze the processed samples in.

Once I'd finished that task, I was determined to get some traps set for the mangy bobcat in Topanga before heading to UCLA to finish processing the rest of P19's samples.  I headed straight to Topanga and had an idea of where I would put the traps.  Figuring out where to put traps can be the most time-consuming part of setting traps. 

I managed to set traps that morning, starting at 6am.  I went to the field, found two spots to get my first couple traps out in an area near where I'd gotten pictures of the mangy bobcat with a remote camera.  It takes about 1 hour to set each trap, so for a couple hours, I worked to get the first couple traps set.  For each bobcat I try to cat, I want several traps up to 1/2 mile apart from eachother- especially if I don't know the movement patterns of the individual I am targeting.  Since locally, bobcats have home ranges spanning about 1 square mile for females and about 2 square miles for males.  Therefore, having several traps spread out over about 1-2 square miles increases your odds of having your target bobcat walk by the trap. 

Knowing I had a lot of work do to at UCLA with the lion samples I'd collected, I could only get a couple traps out that morning.  At least I had something in place in case the bobcat walked by the area.  So, after setting traps, I was off to school!

I headed to campus where I "process" the blood samples I collect.  This involves making sure the samples are in proper longterm storage tubes.  To Be Continued...