Also known as pumas, mountain lions, and catamounts, cougars are adaptable predators and the world’s fourth largest wildcat following lions, tigers, and jaguars. Cougars are relatively solitary animals but despite living mostly alone, these cats still have complex social structures. The range for a single cougar can be 100-300 square miles and they can be found in all sorts of habitats all over North America. While cougars are large cats that can be found all over North America, they are some of the least likely mammals seen on the continent.

These large cats aren’t to be reckoned with, as adults typically weigh 100-140 pounds, stand 30 inches at the shoulder, and can be 7-8 feet long. Even at their size, cougars are elegant and fast; they’re regularly able to cover 10-25 miles a night on uneven, tough terrain and their stop speeds can get up to 40-50 miles an hour. Cougars are also able to leap as high as 18 feet in one bound and up to 45 feet horizontally.

Their scientific name, Puma concolor, means “of one color”, which refers to their coat colors being evenly colored, often a solid orange, yellow, tan, rusty brown, or grey. Cougars are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, like forests and mountainous deserts. They tend to prefer areas with dense underbrush but that’s not always available; one cougar even called the parks in and around Los Angeles home. With the exception of mothers and kittens, cougars are solitary and will either meet only to mate or by chance. Female cougars will average one litter every two to three years, with litter sizes being between one to six cubs. Survival rates for cubs are low but if they do make it, the cubs will stay with their mothers for 18-24 months before going out on their own. Additionally, if they do make it to adulthood, cougars have a life expectancy of 8-13 years in the wild.

Learn about the National Wildlife Federation’s Save The LA Cougars campaign

Cougars are opportunistic predators and in the Pacific Northwest, deer are the most common prey. But cougars have been known to also eat moose, elk, bighorn sheep, livestock, hares/rabbits, beavers, and squirrels. A cougar’s strength, agility, and stealth all play into their hunting techniques, as these large cats can quickly snap the neck of large animals like moose and elk. Their strong jaws, large, sharp teeth, and ability to jump far and long also help the cats.

Cougars do not eat every single day, as these cats will often eat thirty pounds of meat at a time and will often save the rest of their kill for later. An adult cougar could live off a single deer for two or three weeks. The seasons and population cycles of other animals can impact a cougar’s diet. Some cats will eat larger ungulates in the winter and smaller but easier-to-catch mammals in the summer; cougars will also change their hunting habits as populations of prey animals ebb and flow, like the snowshoe hare’s ten-year population cycle in British Columbia. A cougar’s location also matters, as their main diet in Florida is wild hogs!

Human and Livestock Conflicts

Unfortunately, conflicts between humans and wildlife are part of life for people and animals alike. Interactions between humans and cougars are relatively rare but have long been a part of Pacific Northwest history, even in urban settings. While cougars are relatively secretive and elusive in the wild, there are still tragic stories of people being injured or killed by cougars, even if people do all the right things

The debate surrounding cougar hunting has been controversial for years now, with one side saying that hunting is an ineffective way to manage cougar populations and conflicts. The other side, which often includes hunters and ranchers, says that cougars threaten human, pet, and livestock safety and that hunting should be increased. But the reality is that hunting doesn’t have the impact on cougar numbers and decreasing livestock attacks that hunting enthusiasts claim.

A 2013 study looked at the effects of amateur hunting on cougar complaints and livestock depredations and found that “widespread indiscriminate hunting does not appear to be an effective preventative and remedial method for reducing predator complaints and livestock depredations.” In fact, cougar-related complaints and attacks were positively associated with human, livestock, and cougar populations and increased complaints are strongly associated with an increased cougar harvest/hunt. Basically, as cougar hunts increase, complaints, conflicts, and attacks on livestock also increase and there is a strong association between cougar hunts and human/cougar conflicts.

Another study done by a Western Oregon University biologist actually found that hunting has little to no impact on cougar conflicts in the way that people argue it will. John Laundré used data from state agencies and federal databases to investigate the differences between California, a state that does not allow sport hunting, and nine other western states. He found that while the data is incomplete, California had similar cougar densities and livestock attacks as other states the state had the third lowest rate of per capita attacks on people. If hunting was actually an effective way to keep cougar numbers in check, then California would have far more cougars than surrounding states.


While cougars are considered a “species of least concern” by the ICUN, their numbers are also significantly lower than what they were historically and the cats were almost completely eradicated from the eastern United States. While conservation has helped them, there are still plenty of threats to the species’ survival. Hunting, as mentioned, continues to be an issue but other human interactions like poisoning, vehicle collisions, and retaliatory killings continue to threaten these big cats. Habitat loss is also a huge issue, as the conservation of cougars depends on the preservation of large amounts of habitats. These cats, as mentioned, have large territories and require significantly more area than black bears (13 times more) or bobcats (40 times more).

Ultimately, most people in North America won’t come into contact with a cougar in the wild. There have, sadly, been fatal interactions between humans, pets/livestock, and cougars but for the most part, cougars tend to be solitary, elusive animals that prefer to keep their distance from humans. Like grey wolves and other apex predators, cougars play an important part in their ecosystems and should be given space to survive.

Have you ever seen a cougar before?

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