Seeley Swan Pathfinder
March 11, 1999
by Mike Thompson,
FWP Wildlife Biologist
For the Pathfinder Game Range Column
Getting to know a mountain lion can be a prickly proposition. And, it can be a journey, in every sense of the word.
Such was the case with "Porky," the young female lion that FWP researchers Rich DeSimone and Bill Semmens were too dignified to name for themselves. I call her Porky because of her affinity for porcupines.
A fecal sample was not necessary to determine Porky's diet when Rich first met her on January 21, 1998, just south of Ovando. Her seventy pounds were covered with quills. Although a quill bath would be troublesome for you and me, it is not uncommon for lions to diversify their diets with the occasional pin cushion. As I recall from something I read years ago, lions flip the unfortunate quill pig on its back and strike at the unprotected belly. This technique may be effective in avoiding the brunt of the porcupine's primary defense, but it's not foolproof, as evidenced by Porky's flawed complexion.
Rich did what he could for her. He applied a radio transmitter and collar so that at least one narrow strip around her neck would be protected from incidental acupuncture in the future. Then he turned her loose and looked forward to future visits.
It wasn't long before their next meeting. Porky's radio signal had seemed suspiciously stationary in atypical habitat - the open grasslands of Kleinschmidt Flats. So, Rich moved in on foot to see what became of her. He worked carefully and methodically in faithful pursuit of the radio signal until it led him to the center of an expansive plain. Only two trees stood within shouting distance. Sure enough, the fresh remains of Porky's namesake lay mangled at the base of one. And, sure enough, Porky herself peered down from the treetop, wearing her customary halo of quills.
Through winter and early spring, Porky maintained her residence in the Ovando-Helmville Valley, sometimes taking a hike to Trapper Mountain, sometimes seeing the sights at the landslide in the Blackfoot River. But, in early May, she headed south.
Rich and Bill caught her checking out the land of "World Famous Bullshippers," four miles northwest of Drummond, on May 13. Still, she forged farther south, to the North Fork of Willow Creek in the John Long Mountains sometime before May 25. On June 9, Porky was nowhere to be found. Nor on June 21. Nor on June 24, when Bill flew from Georgetown Lake to the Skalkaho Road, his radio receiver calling plaintively for Porky's wayward signal.
The researchers continued to scan the airwaves for Porky during every successive flight in 1998, but never were their efforts rewarded by her distinctive "beep, beep, beep." Did she finally meet a porcupine she couldn't roll? Or was it sheer wanderlust that stole Porky?
A hunter delivered the remarkable punch line on February 16. Porky had been legally killed near the Calf Creek Wildlife Management Area, only a few miles east of Corvallis. She had traveled over 60 airline miles from her original home range, and we'll never know how much more ground she actually covered between May and February. For all we know, she was on her way back from an even more distant location.
This long-distance movement is unusual among radioed lions in the Garnet Range so far in this early stage of FWP's lion study, but it is not abnormal behavior for the species. Young adults are known to disperse, although males are more commonly reported to disperse long distances than females. There are many plausible, and potentially contradictory, reasons that might explain dispersal, but in the end we are left to wonder at what may have prompted Porky to take the long walk south.
While oddball occurrences in the wild often capture our fancies, FWP's lion study is also producing its share of results with more practical applications to the management of lion populations. Rich and Bill would like to share these results with you at a public meeting in Seeley Lake, sometime this spring. I'll keep you posted.