You're hiking in a beautiful, remote area and you come across some damp ground near a river. You look down and see some pretty big tracks. Could they belong to a puma?
The tracks have claws showing but sometimes puma claws will show depending on the type of surface they're walking on.
Who do you think made the tracks just below? (The answer is at the bottom of the page!)
The way you can tell is the shape of the tracks and also when puma claw marks are visible they're usually sharp and thin. Canid (canine) claws are more blunt. Here's some great information and reference images to illustrate (The 6th image from top shows puma track with claw marks in impressionable surface and they're sharp and punctual.):
And here are images for a puma vs. dog track comparison:
The more you look at tracks and their characteristics, the better you'll get at being able to tell subtle differences. Often it's difficult to tell who made the tracks - sometimes you'll come across coyote tracks that have no claw impressions, and finding a puma track with claw impressions is unusual, but it happens.
A great book for beginning trackers in California is the California Natural History Guides "Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California."
And a great comprehensive tracking guide is "Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species" by Mark Elbroch.
The more you look, the more you'll see and learn. Let's get tracking!
The track above is a Coyote track!
--- 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.