The shocking find upends frequently held beliefs around one of the Americas' most iconic huge cats.

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WATCH: new footage of pumas, or cougars, expose a complex social framework in what had been thought to it is in a solitary carnivore.

For decades, the cougar (Puma concolor) has actually been assumed of together a loner predator, running across other members that its types only come mate or come fight.

But a new study now shows that, contrary to popular belief, cougars have quietly built for themselves a rich, hierarchical culture based mostly on sharing food—a find that stands come upend scientists" preconceptions about one that the Americas" most iconic huge cats.

“For an ext than 60 year of extensive research... We have actually said that are solitary, robotic killing machines,” says mark Elbroch, lead scientist for the Puma regimen at Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization. “Instead, what we have unveiled is a secretive animal with a facility social system totally built ~ above reciprocity.

“That paris in the confront of everything we ever thought around this animal,” that adds.

“I thought it was really amazing research—we usually assume the these pets aren"t social,” to add Justine Smith, a postdoctoral researcher in ~ the college of California, Berkeley, who researches humans" impacts on cougars. She to be not associated with the study.

Candid Camera

According to Elbroch, his team"s discovery—published ~ above Wednesday in scientific research Advances—was as lot a matter of technology as it was patience. Because that years, that says, he and other researchers had seen tantalizing glimpses that cougars crossing paths, however they couldn"t view or recognize the interactions.

That all readjusted when Elbroch, a National geographical conservation grantee, set up a network of camera traps throughout nearly 900 mile of the higher Yellowstone Ecosystem, v the wishes of capturing cougars in the act. (Explore Yellowstone together never prior to in our may 2016 issue.)

Initially, Elbroch"s camera network wasn"t in search of signs of mountain-lion society; the was a happy accident. Originally, he just wanted to know what cougars were eating, so he could much better estimate their caloric intake and affect on the ecosystem. On this inquiry alone, the camera traps surrendered gems: In a recent record in organic Conservation, Elbroch verified that the highest possible diversity of scavengers ever recorded on earth exists in ~ cougar kill sites.

But nothing prepared him because that a moment in early 2012, once he stumbled across an extraordinary vision while reviewing camera-trap footage: an adult woman cougar approaching the carcass of one elk one more female cougar had killed.

The 2 hissed and also struck postures at one another—and then, come Elbroch"s shock, the kill site"s cougar permit the brand-new arrival share she meal. This generous act to be no mere fluke; the pair of cougars continued to be in each other"s agency for a full day and also a half. And as later hereditary data showed, lock weren"t pertained to one another.

In effect, Elbroch"s camera had captured the very first cougar friendship well-known to science.

“It just sort of shattered every little thing we believed we had actually learned around the species,” that says. “I remember throwing my hand up in the air.”


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At first, Elbroch assumed that what he had witnessed to be extraordinarily rare. Yet once he started focusing on the behavior, he was in for a 2nd surprise: The first footage wasn"t as unusual as he believed it"d be. Between 2012 and also 2015, Elbroch"s cameras had actually recorded 118 interactions in between two cougars. A complete 60 percent of them to be at kill sites—and many were the sort of meal-sharing he had seen before. (Meet the elusive wildcats you"ve never heard of.)

Over and over, Elbroch experienced cougars “give” other cougars accessibility to their death sites. In later on encounters, the second cougar would certainly be 7.7 times more likely, ~ above average, to return the favor.

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Mapping Relationships

The data that Elbroch"s team obtained not only let them record these relationships on film, yet also assist them attract maps that cougar society. I beg your pardon cougars were hanging out through one one more most often? Who visited whom?

In partnership with mark Lubell and Michael levy of the university of California, Davis, Elbroch mapped the cougars" relationships as a tangle the interconnected nodes. The team might then mathematically quantify just how interconnected any type of one cougar to be within the society group.