Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In the Lion's Den!

During my pictograph and petroglyph hike in Joshua Tree with PT last week, I think some of his enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I found myself poking around in anything that looked like a rock overhang or cave for signs of ancient markings. Well, I didn't find any new pictographs or petroglyphs sites (besides those that PT showed me), but I did make a somewhat gruesome and interesting discovery. I noticed a couple huge boulders that formed something of a natural cave. Looking in, I saw a large skeleton! Seeing the big rib cage, my first reaction was to take a few steps back in shock, and I wondered if it was a human skeleton. After regaining my composure, I took a closer look and it was obviously the skeleton of a bighorn sheep. As PT and I climbed into the cave to take a closer look, we noticed the skeleton was nearly fully intact. Near as I could tell, it was missing only one horn and the lower jaw, and these were on a rock ledge just above the rest of the skeleton. It slowly dawned on both of us that this was a very recent kill, and that there is only one predator in Joshua Tree that could have killed a bighorn sheep, and that's a mountain lion. I think we both got the heeby jeebies at about the same time as we realized we had literally climbed into a mountain lion den where a lion had been recently feeding.

The missing horn and lower jaw were on this ledge above the main skeleton.
Photo credit Pat Tillett
We left everything exactly as we found it, and agreed we should quietly exit the den ASAP. As we did so, I think we both wondered if we were being watched, and scanned the rocky slopes around us, hoping not to see the big cat coming our way!!!
Photo credit: Google Images at Mountain Lion California
After our hike, I notified the Park Service of our find and asked if this was likely a mountain lion kill. Park Ranger Michael Vamstad confirmed our suspicions that this was almost certainly a mountain lion kill (the bighorn sheep was likely attacked while drinking from the nearby wash and dragged to this location). He said they really don't know how many mountain lions there are in Joshua Tree, but estimated there are probably "about a dozen". He was very interested in my report and asked for GPS coordinates of the location (which I provided). Additional information he provided is below.

Mountain lions do return to the kill site multiple times to feed on the carcass. They are quite methodical when it comes to feeding and I would say that this carcass is picked pretty clean. They first usually remove the digestive system and then go for the organ meat and that is why you see the rib cage opened up rather evenly. They then will return for more muscular meat. This may be a strategy to eat the parts that will go bad first and to remove the organs that will hasten the spoilage of the meat (digestive tract organs). A bighorn kill will probably feed a lion for a week or so. 

We have never had a lion attack in the park. We have had a couple of interactions where the Lion growled at hikers, but that has been it. I know that I feel the heeby jeebies when I am around a kill site, although I am probably in no real danger. However, you are in their territory and at one of their kill sites which probably increases your risk some...

Thanks again for letting us know!! We will get it entered into our database. 

It was quite an adventure, and one I will not soon forget!

25 comments:

  1. Wow - that's a good place not to be!

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  2. Aw-- I thought you risked life and limb. Well, it doesn't matter. Wonderful pictures and a great post--as always.

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  3. Scary but at the same time pretty darn interesting. Good thing the lion had moved on!

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  4. Yes, that would be quite an adventure!

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  5. A bit scary but you got some great photos. That was quite an adventure!

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  6. Very interesting find. You are getting daring in your exploration. It was worth it to find the skeleton remains.

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  7. Yep that is the sort of thing would make you hair stand on end and want to make a quick exit

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  8. Great find. Then you feel yourself a great explorer. Nice.

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  9. Wow!Spectacular!Great shoots :)))

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  10. Goodness! What an adventure! Thanks for visiting my blog...so I could come visit you!
    Gorgeous photography!

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  11. That was such an interesting discovery! The information from the ranger not only confirmed your supposition but also added a rationale as to why the skeleton was so intact.

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  12. What an adventure! Nice find and a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. What that is totally crazy! Intersting how the bones were completely intact. One would think they would be scattered all over.

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  14. All I can say is "What a rush!!"

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  15. WOW! What a thing to find, though kind of creep at the same time.

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  16. Jealous of just about all of this - I'd love to meet up with some other bloggers in a place like this - and what a great find.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  17. Great find and I would certainly be quite nervous also.

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  18. You said "doesn't it smell funny in here?" Then we looked around at our surroundings and the heebie jeebies commenced. I still feel like there are eyes on me (it's usually our house cats). There are occasional mountain lion attacks around here. It always seems to involve a solitary person on a mountain bike. Because the are moving quickly, I guess they look like prey... Yikes!

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  19. I think that would put a whole new light on wandering around there! The photos you shot are terrific.

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  20. Wow - that was a wonderful discovery, albeit a bit gruesome! We have the big cats here with healthy populations and I have encountered a few face to face. Luckily, always with my big dogs and always when they were in a tree, but one summer night the dogs would not stop barking and I went out on the front stoop to have a look around. Not more than 20 ft. away, draped from one end of the woodpile to the other, was a very large cat looking right at me. The dogs did not dare move and we all went inside very quickly and carefully. I always carry a large canister of bear spray when I go outside. Karen from WA state.

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  21. Oh my gosh. I am practically speechless (wordless, I guess I mean). In awe and thinking of how you must have felt when you realized ....

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  22. Fantastic pics! But now I'm not so sure I want to visit Joshua Tree!

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