Another female mountain lion has been enlisted in a wildlife research project by conservation biologists with the Mountain Lion Project – the fourth in four months.

The latest big cat, named P4 for research purposes, is an adult female estimated to be 5 to 6 years old and weighing 83 pounds, the Audubon Canyon Ranch announced this week.

The mountain lion was captured and fitted with a GPS satellite collar in the early morning hours of Monday, Feb. 20, on private property in the rugged hills east of Highway 12 between the Bouverie Preserve and the Sonoma city limits.

The cat was in good condition with no signs of injury. “We saw no evidence of any offspring or companions nearby, and she showed no signs of being pregnant or lactating,” noted Quinton Martins, ACR’s lead researcher on the project. The capture, led by Martins, was attended by California Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarian Deana Clifford and the ACR research team of Jeanne Wirka, Alex Hettena and Virginia Fifield.

The team first secured permission from the property owners, and set two traps the previous afternoon. “P4 arrived at the traps for the first time before 7 p.m. (Sunday), and was clearly very keen to get at the bait, but very wary of going into the trap,” said Martins. He noted that the inclement weather – it had been raining heavily for several days – may have “added to her interest in a ‘free’ meal.”

Researchers stationed themselves nearby but monitored the cages overnight, and P4 finally went into the cage at 1:44 a.m. Monday morning. She proceeded to consume the bait until the team was ready to sedate and safely handle her. She was fitted with a new satellite GPS collar; measurements and samples were taken and then she was released at the same site.

By coincidence, a television news crew had been interviewing the ACR Mountain Lion Project team, and aired a story on their efforts on KGO TV on Thursday evening, which included footage of an earlier mountain lion capture and tagging, of P2 in November.

“The team was on the go for more than 24 hours with very little sleep,” said Wirka, ACR’s director of stewardship. Wirka said this marks the third mountain lion to be fitted with a GPS collar under a Scientific Collection permit issued in July to ACR by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In November, a 10-month old mountain lion (P3) was captured but weighed under the 50-pound minimum for the GPS collar. Data was collected on the lion and the team hopes to recapture her in the future.

“Mountain lions are sometimes called an ‘umbrella species’ because they have large ranges and special habitat requirements,” said Wirka. “If a mountain lion population is able to survive and thrive in a fragmented landscape, it suggests other animals can as well.”

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.