In western Canada it is illegal to trap or snare cougars (Puma concolor), but cougars are sometimes caught accidentally in snares placed near carrion baits, a technique commonly used by trappers to harvest wolves (Canis lupus). We studied cougar foraging ecology and survival in west-central Alberta to estimate the propensity for cougars to scavenge, their susceptibility to snaring at trapper bait stations, and the implications these have for managing cougar populations. During 2005–2008, we used data from visits to 3,407 Global Positioning System (GPS) location clusters and >400 km of snow tracking of 44 cougars to locate foraging events and calculate scavenging rates. We identified 83 instances of scavenging, and 64% of monitored cougars scavenged at least once. Scavenging rates were higher in winter (0.12 events/week) than in summer (0.04 events/week), reflecting seasonal variation in carrion availability. Individual cougars scavenged at different rates, and winter feeding on carrion occupied up to 50% of total carcass handling time for some cougars. Based on these results we conclude that cougars are facultative scavengers. A propensity to scavenge made cougars susceptible to snaring causing high annual mortality in radiocollared cougars (0.11, 95% CI = 0.03–0.21). Provincial cougar mortality data demonstrate that snaring has increased dramatically as a mortality source in Alberta over the last 2 decades. Mortalities of radiocollared cougars during our study were 100% human caused and the addition of snaring mortality to already high hunting mortality resulted in low annual survival (0.67, 95% CI = 0.53–0.81). Our study is one of the first to identify population-level consequences for nontarget animals killed unintentionally by indiscriminate harvest techniques in a terrestrial ecosystem. Maintaining sustainable cougar harvest where snaring at carrion baits is permitted may require flexible hunting quotas capable of accommodating high cougar snaring mortalities in some years.
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Vol. 74 • No. 4