It rained on the Preserve earlier this week! Just a light rain in the early morning, not lasting long but it may have been long enough to trigger a territorial behavior in mountain lions called scent-marking. Mountain lions mark their territory in a few different ways, including marking a pile of dirt with feces or urine, known as a scratch pile, as well as scratch marking on trees, known as claw raking.
If our Preserve lion is a male considering claiming some territory here, it may be that he was out doing some marking just after that rain. While lions constantly patrol and mark their territory to send a clear signal that the area is occupied, a perfectly sensible time to go out and 're-apply' would be just after a rainfall, when scents would be diluted and washed away.
Male mountain lions can leave scat in the middle of a road or pathway or if they're actively scent-marking, they'll use their back legs to kick together some dirt, twigs and leaves into a scratch pile and then either defecate or urinate on the pile, leaving these calling cards along the borders of their territory. Scent marking becomes particularly important when a male lion's range overlaps with another male lion's area or when a female lion in heat is nearby. Will this lion be so motivated to scent-mark if he doesn't feel a threat from neighboring lions or smell a willing female? We can't say. It depends on what this lion thinks about the habitat he's navigated to on the Preserve.
Regardless, this could be good news for our camera team and we'll find out at our next camera check whether this lion was busy walking perimeter areas, and perhaps padding by our camera locations on his scent-marking mission!
--- The Bureau of Land Management initiated a mountain lion study on the Cosumnes River Preserve in collaboration with the California Department Fish and Wildlife in 2014. Currently, the study is being carried out by an all-volunteer crew of dedicated individuals who receive support and oversight from the Bureau of Land Management. The Sacramento Zoo has awarded a grant to the Mountain Lion Foundation which has allowed the Foundation to purchase and loan ten trail cameras to the Preserve to help carry out this study. The goal is to find and document a mountain lion on the Cosumnes River Preserve.