Genus: Puma (Total members of this genus: Mountain Lion and Jaguarundi)
Species: Puma concolor
Argentine puma (Puma concolor cabrerae): Argentina
Costa Rican cougar (Puma concolor costaricensis): Costa Rica
North American cougar (Puma concolor couguar): The United States and Canada
South American cougar (Puma concolor concolor): Northern parts of South America
Southern South American puma (Puma concolor puma) Southern parts of South America
Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) The rare and elusive Florida Panther who lives in the Everglades and swamps of Florida
The Cougar has many other additional names including the puma, the mountain lion, panther, and catamount. The Cougar’s range is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western hemisphere. It spans 110 degrees of latitude, from the northern Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes In South America. It is one of only three cat species, along with the bobcat and Canada lynx that is native to Canada.
The cougar prefers habitat with lots of underbrush and tree cover as well as steep canyons and rocky escarpments for stalking purposes but it will also live in wide open spaces too. It adapts to virtually every habitat: it is found in tropical rainforests, temperate rainforests (which are the coniferous ones found for example in the Pacific Northwest), temperate deciduous forests (forests where the leaves change color), and in boreal forests (also known as taiga forests, they are the coldest forests up in the northern countries and are mostly coniferous). The mountain lion also thrives in lowland and mountainous deserts.
The cougar is the fourth heaviest cat, after the tiger, lion, and jaguar. Cougars can be almost as large as jaguars, but are less muscular and not as powerfully built and where their ranges overlap, the cougar tends to be smaller than average. Cougar adults stand about 60 to 90 cm (24 to 35 in) tall at the shoulders. Adult males are around 2.4 m (7.9 ft) long nose-to-tail and females range from 1.5 to 2.75 m (4.9 to 9.0 ft) nose to tail. Males typically weigh 53 to 100 kg (115 to 220 lb), averaging 62 kg (137 lb). Females typically weigh between 29 and 64 kg (64 and 141 lb), averaging 42 kg (93 lb). Cougar size is smallest close to the equator, and larger towards the poles. The largest recorded cougar, shot in Arizona, weighed 125.5 kg (276 lb) after its intestines were removed, indicating in life it could have weighed nearly 136.2 kg (300 lb).
Cougars are gorgeous. They generally all have the same beautiful pale tawny yellow fur and tan yellow eyes. Some have crystalline blue eyes. There are people who have claim to have seen cougars in a melanistic phase (all black colored) but it has never been officially documented (when a jaguar or leopard is all black it is known as a black panther).
Cougars have large paws and also have proportionally the largest hind legs in the cat family. These legs allow it to make great leaps and short-sprints. The cougar is able to leap as high as 5.5 m (18 ft) in one bound, and as far as 40 to 45 ft (12 to 13.5 m) horizontally.
The cougar’s top running speed ranges between 64 and 80 km/h (40 and 50 mph), but is best adapted for short, powerful sprints rather than long chases. It is adept at climbing, which allows it to evade canine competitors. Although it is not strongly associated with water, it can swim.
The cougar is very secretive and solitary by nature, and is nocturnal and crepuscular (twilight and early dawn dweller) but daylight sightings do occur. Interestingly, the cougar is more closely related to smaller felines including the domestic cat rather than the big cats of Panthera (the four big cats who can roar). It’s closest relative is the Jaguarundi. The cougar cannot roar, it lacks the specially evolved larynx and hyoid bones required to do so. But it can purr and it can also make little chirps and whistles, imitating bird calls which lures the birdies closer to them.
Cougars, by eating herbivores with seeds in their stomachs and then leaving scat across a large range, are able to plant around 94,000 plants a year.
Only females are involved in parenting. Female cougars are fiercely protective of their cubs, and have been known to successfully fight off animals as large as American black bears in their defense. Litter size is between one and six cubs, typically two. Caves and other alcoves that offer protection are used as litter dens. Born blind, cubs are completely dependent on their mother at first, and begin to be weaned at around three months of age. As they grow, they begin to go out on forays with their mother, first visiting kill sites, and after six months beginning to hunt small prey on their own. Kitten survival rates are just over one per litter. When cougars are born, they have spots, but they lose them as they grow, and by the age of 2 1/2 years, the spots are completely gone.
Life expectancy of cougars in the wild is reported at eight to 13 years; but a female of at least 18 years was reported to have been killed by some idiot hunters on Vancouver Island. Cougars may live as long as 20 years in captivity. One male North American cougar named Scratch was two months short of his 30th birthday when he died in 2007.
The cougar is a stalk and ambush predator, meaning instead of chasing its prey (which it occasionally does), it prefers to wait in the shadows from above, stalking through brush and trees, across ledges, or other covered spots, before leaping onto the back of its prey and a delivering a suffocating neck bite.
The cougar eats deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep, domestic cattle, horses, sheep, and also bugs, small rodents, and reptiles. Like all cats, it is an obligate carnivore, meaning it needs to feed exclusively on meat to survive. It isn’t always the apex predator of its range (the apex predator is the top predator at the very pinnacle of the ecosystem’s food chain)- it will yield to the jaguar, the Gray wolf, the American Black Bear, and the Grizzly. It is generally very shy and the sighting of a cougar is a rare and great thing. There are people who have lived in cougar country their whole lives and never caught a glimpse. One ran right in front of me about 12 feet from my truck when I was on a back country road in the woods of Northern CA, it loped off and I stopped and watched its yellow body fade into the dusk. It was a spectacular gift.
It is a myth that Cougars pose a serious threat to livestock. A new 2013 study came out showing that unless a particular cougar is a major problem, it is better to just leave them alone because hunting them removes older cougars who have learned to avoid people in their established territories. This allows inexperienced younger males who are most likely to approach human developments to enter the former territories of the older animals.
The results of the study:
-100% removal of adult cougars resulted in a 150% – 340% increase in livestock and human conflicts!
-So, it is much better to leave the older adult experienced cougars alone- virtually no livestock loss occurs this way. (source)
Cougars Are Vital For A Healthy Eco System
Cougars serve a major role in keeping the ecosystem healthy. They weed out the sick and genetically weak animals, keeping the populations in balance and healthy- which is turn keeps the vegetation and landscape healthy. Cougars are necessary for a healthy ecosystem. If you’re ever lucky enough to spot one from somewhere safe like a vehicle, just be real quiet and feel the power.
Wildlife corridors and sufficient range areas are critical to the sustainability of cougar populations. Research simulations have shown that the animal faces a low extinction risk in areas of 2200 km2 (850 sq mi) or more. As few as one to four new animals entering a population per decade markedly increases the chance for a healthy population to grow, which again shows how important it is to preserve and create new wildlife corridors. A wildlife corridor, also called a habitat or green corridor is an area of habitat connecting wildlife populations that have become separated by human activities or structures, such as roads, development, or logging. It is a bridge of land that animals can walk through in order to travel to different locations for water, food, and to breed. This allows an exchange of individuals between populations, which majorly helps prevent the negative effects of inbreeding and the reduction of genetic diversity.
Cougar Attacks Are Incredibly Rare, But Here’s What To Do If You Encounter One On Foot In The Wild
Attacks on humans are very rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behavior and they do not generally recognize humans as prey unless they have become habituated to humans or are in a state of extreme starvation. Attacks are most frequent during late spring and summer, when juvenile cougars leave their mothers and search for new territory. Fatal cougar attacks are extremely rare and occur much less frequently than fatal dog attacks, fatal snake bites, fatal lightning strikes, or fatal bee stings. Around 20 people in North America were killed by cougars between 1890 and 2011, including six in California. More than two-thirds of the Canadian fatalities occurred on Vancouver Island in British Columbia where cougar populations are high.
As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered or if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase. A person “playing dead” or simply standing still however may cause the cougar to consider a person easy prey. Here’s what to do if you see a Mountain Lion in the wild:
1.Make yourself appear as large as possible. Make yourself appear larger by picking up your children, leashing pets in, and if possible standing close to other adults. Open your jacket. Raise your arms. Wave your raised arms slowly.
2.Make noise. Yell, shout, bang your walking stick against a tree. Make any loud sound that cannot be confused by the lion as the sound of prey. Speak slowly, firmly and loudly to disrupt and discourage predatory behavior.
3. Act like a predator yourself. Maintain eye contact. Never run past or from a mountain lion. Never bend over or crouch down. Aggressively wave your raised arms, throw stones or branches, all without turning away.
4. Slowly create distance. Assess the situation. Consider whether you may be between the lion and its kittens, or between the lion and its prey or cache. Back slowly to a spot that gives the mountain lion a path to get away, never turning away from the animal. Give a mountain lions the time and ability to move away.
5. Protect yourself. If attacked, fight back. Protect your neck and throat. People have utilized rocks, jackets, garden tools, tree branches, walking sticks, fanny packs and even bare hands to turn away cougars.
Preceding attacks on humans, cougars will display aberrant behavior, such as activity during daylight hours, a lack of fear of humans, and stalking humans. There have sometimes been incidents of pet cougars mauling people.
Wild Animals Should Not Be Kept As Pets
Having a cougar or any wild cat as a pet must be banned- these are wild animals not domesticated pets. It is wrong to keep a wild animal in captivity as a pet. It’s cruel to the animal and dangerous for the human. Those people often end up getting mauled. I don’t think wild cats should be kept in captivity period, unless they are required for preserving the species or are a special rescue case who cannot be turned to the wild. And even then, they should only be in a fenced off area that is so large it simulates actually living in the wild. Seeing large cats pacing inside small zoo cages is a very upsetting sight.
Information On Cougar Population Numbers, Hunting Laws, And Conservation Efforts:
The cougar population is hanging in there though their numbers are on the decline as humans encroach further onto their habitats. They were hunted to very low levels in much of the 1800s and 20th century when people were colonizing the Americas. Cougars living on the east coast were declared extinct in 2011 but occasionally there are reports of sightings so some may be traveling great distances from the west, most likely young males trying to establish their own territory. There is a recognized small subpopulation of Mountain Lions in the Florida back wood swamps called the Florida Panther. The Florida Panther is Critically Endangered, although as of 2015 the Florida panther is missing from the IUCN Red List.
It should be illegal everywhere to hunt cougar. Hunting of cougars is prohibited in northern Argentina and all of Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay. Cougars are still bounty hunted in southern Argentina. Policing poaching in rural areas remains problematic, and illegal killing of cougars is common and widespread.
Regulated cougar hunting is still common in the United States and Canada, although they are protected from all hunting in the Yukon; it is permitted in every U.S. state from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, with the exception of California. Texas is the only state in the United States with a viable population of cougars that does not protect that population in some way. In Texas, cougars are listed as nuisance wildlife and any person holding a hunting or a trapping permit can kill a cougar regardless of the season, number killed, sex or age of the animal. Killed animals are not required to be reported to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This is wrong and must be changed.
Conservation work of lions in Texas is conducted by a non-profit organization called Balanced Ecology Inc (BEI), as part of their Texas Mountain Lion Conservation Project. Cougars are generally hunted with packs of dogs, until the animal is ‘treed’. When the hunter arrives on the scene, he shoots the cat from the tree at close range. This is wrong.
The cougar cannot be legally killed without a permit in California except under very specific circumstances, such as when a cougar is in act of pursuing livestock or domestic animals, or is declared a threat to public safety. Permits are issued when owners can prove property damage on their livestock or pets. For example, when multiple dogs have been attacked and killed, sometimes while with the owner, the owner has recourse.
Conservation threats to the species include persecution as a pest animal (cougars will take farmers livestock though this is not an ultra frequent occurrence), environmental degradation and habitat fragmentation, and depletion of their prey base. Again, wildlife corridors are key to keeping the Mountain Lion population healthy.