Trail Cam Treasure Hunt

Where’s Waldo, err Wildlife — Mountain Lion Edition

path with body of elk in foreground with mountain lion hiding near tree on right

Do you know those images your friends post on Facebook of say, a bunch of rectangles, and they ask you to find the circles? I can stare at them all day and see lots of … rectangles.

I was reminded of those images the other day when I saw the above trail cam image on Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page.

OK, the elk is easy to see, but the stalking mountain lion? Even when I read the hint, it still took me forever to find.

Anna Weyers, refuge manager at Rio Mora Refuge in New Mexico, says Dale Erz, one of their dedicated volunteers, also missed the mountain lion, or puma, on first glance.

But when he saw this later photo of the mountain lion out in the open, he had a second look at the photo that showed the camouflaged cat.

mountain lion in trail

After his search, he found the predator.

Trail-cam photos often turn up gems, giving us what we jokingly call wildlife selfies, but this photo is just a reminder it’s easy to miss important details. Always take that closer look. Keeping our eyes open in nature can really be like “Where’s Waldo”, wildlife-edition.

Here are some earlier photos to set the scene. Rio Mora has a new post, too, that gives more detail.

elk on right side of trail
elk on edge of camera
elk moves more toward middle of trail

The outcome of what happens between the elk and the mountain remains a mystery. You see the elk move off, and the mountain lion wanders the way the elk went. After that, who knows?

What we do know is that mountain lions prey on elk.

Mountain lions are ambush predators. They stalk their prey, staying hidden until they are ready to strike. Then they pounce, hitting the prey from the back or side. The killing blow is normally a bite to the neck/head.

With the ellk moving on, the mountain lion is just emerging from its hiding spot below.

Elk is out of photo and mountain lion is starting to emerge

The photos were taken as part of a monitoring project looking at the success of restoring arroyos at Rio Mora Refuge.

Even if the photo makes my eyes hurt, it’s worth it to see this amazing wildlife experience. Equally, or maybe more, amazing is that anyone spotted the mountain lion to begin with. It’s a great reminder to give those trail cam photos a second look!

By Matt Trott, External Affairs




The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

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We’re dedicated to the conservation, protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife and plants, and their habitats.

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