An apex predator entered the frame of Jason Craig's northern Colorado trail camera on January 27. In the video that it captured (it's not embeddable, so you have to watch it here), the majestic mountain lion surveys the scenery, sniffs the air, and emits a sound that only a creature of power and dignity could make: an adorable, heart-melting, high-pitched chirp. She sounds like some kind of odd forest bird, or a person letting out a startled yelp.
I asked Veronica Yovovich, Wildlife Conflict Specialist at the Mountain Lion Foundation, to help me understand why something so regal makes a squeak that is so incredibly precious.
"That particular sound you're hearing is a contact call between mothers and their cubs," she told me. "They make that call when they're separated and are trying to reunite," suggesting this particular mountain lion had lost her kittens.
They may look like ferocious big cats, but mountain lions are extremely chill. There have been fewer than a dozen fatalities as a result of mountain lion encounters in the US in more than 100 years, according to a 2011 report from Colorado's Reporter-Herald. It's difficult to get clear data on mountain lion populations and activity, since they're so aloof. They're not very territorial against other mountain lions and their habitat spreads across most of the state, but they remain out of sight of humans for the most part.
Yovovich said the foundation has captured trail cam footage of mountain lions calling to young where the cubs come bounding into the frame moments later, but it's difficult to tell how far the kittens have wandered from their mother in this video.
"My guess is that the call would travel pretty well based on where she was—a sort of natural amphitheater on that rocky outcrop—but that her kittens were likely not far. Since I don't see or hear any sign of them, I can't say for sure."
Have you seen this mountain lion mama's wild fluffy babies? Squeak? Squeak?!