Officials from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) recorded rare footage of a mountain lion eating a cached mule deer thanks to the unlikely intersection of two wildlife-monitoring projects. Near the end of July, a mule deer that was collared in 2020 for a monitoring project on winter survival rates gave off a mortality ping. At the same time, CPW officials received a ping from a mountain lion collared in January 2021 for a study on the species’ population density in western Colorado. The lion was at the same spot where the muley died. A state wildlife officer hiked to the location, found the carcass, and set a trail cam, which then captured uncommon footage of a mountain lion consuming its prey.
“Better understanding species interactions, in particular predator and prey, is a huge benefit that has resulted from GPS technology,” said CPW Terrestrial Biologist Bryan Lamont in a press release. “In this case, both of these animals had traveled many miles away from where they had originally been caught and collared to only randomly cross paths. When determining female mule deer survival rates, this kind of information can help managers more accurately calculate the exact causes of mortality.”
The Footage May Be Uncommon, But the Predation Event Is Not
Mountain lions are one of North America’s most widespread—and lethal—predators. What’s rare about this encounter is that both the deer and the mountain lion were collared, not that a lion took down a muley. According to the CPW, Colorado is currently home to upwards of 427,000 deer and between 3,800 and 4,400 mature lions. Mule deer account for approximately 66 percent of mountain lion kills, with over half of those kills being fawns. A mature lion eats one deer per week on average. Lions often bury or hide their kills and then return to eat it for up to 10 days, typically eating 20 to 30 pounds of meat at a time. The lion in the CPW video is pictured only eating the deer carcass at night. Near the end of the CPW’s timelapse, a wary coyote is seen poking around the lion’s scraps during the day.
“Mountain lions are amazing creatures in terms of what they are able to do, taking down animals that are three or four times their size, and at the same time staying largely undetected by people,” said the agency’s Carnivore and Furbearer Program Manager Mark Vieira. CPW adds that the relatively uncommon convergence of two collared animals from different species provides an important window into Colorado’s wildness, as well as a testament to the importance of technology to wildlife management.