Cougar Research with Native Americans

In the plains of Montana, WWF is a partnering with the Gros Ventre, Assiniboine and Chippewa-Cree communities to learn how the restoration of cougar populations would affect the residents and economies of the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boys Indian Reservations. The Fort Belknap Reservation is home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes, while the Chippewa-Cree live on the Rocky Boys Reservation.

Who are the Gros Ventre, Assiniboine and Chippewa Cree?

  • The Gros Ventre, Assiniboine and Chippawa Cree are three Native American tribes whose territories fall within the Northern Great Plains ecoregion. Because of their traditional knowledge of the land they are key partners in WWF's conservation work. The Gros Ventre were once part of a single large tribe in Minnesota and Canada that divided in the early 1700s. Today the Gros Ventre has over 3,000 members living in Montana.
  • The Assiniboine are originally from the Northern Great Plains region in both the U.S. and Canada. They have many similarities to the Lakota, though it is believed that the Assiniboine broke away from the Lakota in the 1700s.
  • The Chippewa Cree are a blend of two groups: the Cree from Canada and the Chippewa of North Dakota. Today there are approximately 2,500 living on the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation.

Large carnivores - such as cougars - are critical to maintaining a balanced prairie ecosystem. Yet in agricultural settings, their natural hunting behaviors can conflict with humans in the form of livestock predation. This is a potential challenge for the reservations, whose economies center on livestock grazing and agriculture.

The WWF research team is led by WWF senior fellow and consultant Dr. Kyran Kunkel, who is working with local tribal biologists to assess the potential effect of an increased cougar population on these Native American communities. The research is focused on areas within the reservations that could support the highest density of cougars. WWF and tribal scientists are monitoring the current cougar population using radio collars and mapping technology. They are also assessing the cougars' diet and habitat use, and monitoring the effects of cougars on livestock. The results of this collaborative study will guide the planning of cougar repopulation management and conservation for the next three years.