Puma, León, León de la montaña (Sp), Puma (G), Puma (F). Called puma in Latin America and in most of the world outside the United States and Canada. Called león locally in Mexico. Sometimes called panther, American lion or catamount in parts of the U.S. Concolor means "of one color," in reference to its plain coloration.
DESCRIPTION (male) Adult North American cougars are 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4m) in length, including 28-36 inches (71-91 cm) of tail. Shoulder height 26-30 inches (66-76 cm). Weight 100-150 pounds (45-68 kg), occasionally much more. Females are about 40 percent smaller than males. Chromosome count is 38. (North American cougars are somewhat larger and darker than those in South America.)
The cougar is the second-largest cat in the Western Hemisphere. It is roughly the same length and height as the North American jaguar, but slimmer and more lightly built, with long legs, a comparatively long neck and a head that is remarkably small for such a large cat. The coat is thick and soft. The tail is long and cylindrical, and covered with thick fur that becomes thicker at the dark tip. There are two color phases, which may vary seasonally. One ranges from buff to reddish-brown, the other is a dull shade of gray. The flanks are paler than the back, merging into white underparts. An occasional melanistic, or black, cougar is seen, mainly in Florida.
BEHAVIOR Solitary, seeking company only during the brief courtship period. Males are territorial, actively maintaining and marking their home ranges, which are typically 25-35 square miles (40-56 square km). There is no fixed breeding season, but most births take place in late winter or early spring. Females usually give birth to 3-4 kittens (range is 1-6) every other year. The kittens are spotted until about six months of age. They remain with the mother for 1-1/2 to 2 years, and are sexually mature at 2-1/2 to 3 years. Life expectancy 12 years, although captives have lived more than 19 years.
Entirely carnivorous, the cougar's usual diet is deer, but it also kills elk, pronghorn antelope, mountain sheep and-during times of scarcity-smaller animals such as rabbits, porcupines and rodents. It sometimes kills domestic animals-particularly sheep-which has made it unpopular with ranchers and caused it to be treated as vermin until fairly recently. Though large in size, the cougar is classified as a "lesser" cat because of its inability to roar. It can purr, and may hiss and snarl when cornered; however, normally it is silent. Rarely, during the mating season, the female may emit a blood-curdling scream. Eyesight is excellent, hearing and sense of smell are good. The cougar is largely nocturnal and is shy, alert and elusive. Not as aggressive toward humans as the other large cats, but attacks do occur, especially in areas where cougars have been allowed to overpopulate due to hunting closures. Generally avoids water, although it swims well. Superbly athletic, cougars have been known to leap 27 feet (8.2 m) horizontally, 18 feet (5.5 m) vertically, and 60 feet (18 m) downward without harming themselves.
HABITAT The cougar has the most extensive natural distribution of any wild mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Can live anyplace there is adequate cover and prey, including mountains, lowlands, forests, swamps, grassland and dry bush.
DISTRIBUTION Cougars are found only in the Western Hemisphere. At one time their North American distribution extended from coast to coast and from northern British Columbia to Panama. Today, they occur in the southern half of British Columbia, southwestern Alberta, the western United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, the entire middle United States, and throughout Mexico and Central America. There also are local populations elsewhere in Canada and the United States, especially in the South. Cougars are still occasionally seen in the eastern states.
Also found throughout South America.
REMARKS Because of the cougar's extreme shyness and extensive range, the only hunting method that offers reasonable success is by trailing with hounds (where lawful). When a fresh trail has been found by the strike dogs, the pack is released for what is often a relatively short chase, because cougars are short-winded and inclined to tree fairly quickly where trees are available. Shooting a treed cougar is usually anticlimactic, because good dogs will hold one up a tree for hours or even days; however, the terrain is often so rough that the chase cannot be followed, and sometimes the dogs get so far away they cannot be located. The sport in cougar hunting with hounds is in training the dogs and watching them work, and in following the chase through the wilderness habitat of this wonderful cat.
SCI accepts Record Book entries for cougars that are darted and radio-collared incidentally as part of the University of Mexico jaguar study program. Please see jaguar text under REMARKS for details.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Fifteen subspecies of cougar have been listed in North America, but differences are trivial. We do not separate them.
STATUS Three subspecies are listed as endangered by the USF&WS: the eastern cougar (couguar) (1973), of southeastern Canada and northeastern United States; the Florida cougar (coryi) (1967), which formerly occurred from eastern Texas to Florida; and the Central American cougar (costaricensis) 1976), of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The first two are listed as endangered by the IUCN and all three are on Appendix I of CITES (1975).
According to all reports, cougar populations in the western United States and Canada are secure and stable. In fact, cougars have overpopulated their range in states that have disallowed hunting with hounds.