BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Researchers in Yellowstone National Park are getting a better understanding of secretive cougars through DNA analysis of scat and hair, along with photographs and specially equipped GPS collars.

Dan Stahler, manager of the Cougar Project, tells The Billings Gazette the work builds on a study by biologist Toni Ruth between 1998 and 2005 that documented changes in cougar populations following the reintroduction of wolves. The latest study shows that a fairly stable population of cougars roams the rugged region between the Lamar Valley and Gardiner known as the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Although elk numbers before wolf reintroduction in 1995 hit about 19,000, they have since plummeted to what has become a new normal of about 4,800. Stahler says that surprisingly, although their main prey source has been depleted, cougar numbers seem to have stayed about the same.

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