Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Signs of a Predator

I was hiking recently and almost stumbled over an old deer carcass. Sprawled in the middle of the path (which hadn't been frequented since December), the deer was little more than the skeleton with a few tufts of hair. For something which should have repulsed me, I was in fact intrigued. The first thought that went through my mind was to check for signs of what killed it. When I spend so much time and research searching for signs of cougars in the Eastern US, then it is no surprise to what popped into my head. In fact, many sightings could be misinterpreted as that of a cougar if that person does not get the best view of a creature, and then believes it was a cougar because they want to believe. I am not going to judge opinions. But in this case, cougar is what I thought first.

My ideas is that: One, it may have been a hunter that killed it and couldn't retrieve the body. Two, it had obviously been eaten by some animal(s). Three, I was too old to know for sure what animal had eaten here.

A cougar is cache its kill by covering the body with leaves and twigs, then will return later to feed some more. I didn't see any indication of burial by leaves, but it doesn't mean it hadn't been unearthed again. The area is home to many predators which may have fed here. A short walk later and I found some harry scat in the middle of the trail. This was also very old, and probably from whatever had consumed (some of) the carcass since it was packed with the hair of the deer. If I had more reason to believe it was that of a cougar, I would have taken some for DNA testing, but with how old the sample was it would be more difficult.