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Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Mountain lion scenic sitting under a treeThe Mountain Lion cougar (Puma concolor), also puma, cougar, or panther, is a member of the Felidae family, native to the Americas. This large, solitary cat has the greatest range of any wild land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, extending from Yukon in Canada to the southern Andes of South America. An adaptable species, the cougar is found in every major North American habitat.

The Mountain lions of Yellowstone region were significantly reduced by predator control measures during the early 1900s. It is reported that 121 lions were removed from the park between the years 1904 and 1925. Then, the remaining population was estimated to be 12 individuals. Mountain lions apparently existed at very low numbers between 1925 and 1940. They maintain a secretive profile in the Yellowstone region. Although the cougar population numbered in the hundreds during the early 1900s, controlled hunts between 1904 and 1925 decimated the population. Today, twenty to thirty-five mountain lions reportedly inhabit Yellowstone Park, but sightings are rare.

Shy and elusive, mountain lions live solitary lives and practice mutual avoidance. Males and females interact for breeding when females are about 2 1/2 years old. Giving birth throughout the year, females can have litters of up to four kittens, but usually only one or two survive. Born spotted, the kittens stay with their mothers for about 18 months, after which time they will leave in search of their own home range.

The Mountain Lion is capable stalk-and-ambush predator; the cougar pursues a wide variety of prey. Primary food sources include ungulates such as deer and bighorn sheep, but it hunts species as small as insects and rodents.

Mountain Lion and kill, a buck deerThe Cougar prefers habitats with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking, but it can live in open areas. The cougar is territorial and persists at low population densities. Individual territory sizes depend on terrain, vegetation, and abundance of prey.

A single male lion may require up to 175 square miles of territory for its home range. They prefer wild areas frequented by deer. One lion will consume about one deer per week. A lion will cover the remains of its prey and return to the kill to feed until the meat begins to turn. If you find a lion kill, don't hang around the area. The animal may still be nearby. An adult can weigh up to 200 pounds. It is the second heaviest cat in the New World, after the jaguar, and the fourth heaviest in the world, after the tiger, lion, and jaguar, although it is most closely related to smaller felines.

Cougars are good climbers and can leap more than 20 feet up into a tree from a standstill. They can jump to the ground from as high as 60 feet up a tree. A single male lion may travel 25 miles a night while hunting. Cougars may be active by day in areas far from humans. They are most active at dawn and dusk, the times when deer are out feeding. In a healthy ecosystem, Mountain Lions are a top predator, helping to balance wildlife populations. Deer are their primary food sources, and the presence of deer indicates likely presence of cougars. Mountain lions are opportunistic feeders, and can survive on a variety of prey including rodents, birds, porcupines, fish and raccoons, as well as livestock and domestic animals.

Mountain Lion in snowWhen winter food becomes scarce, most of Yellowstone’s mountain lions migrate to lower elevations. Those lions that are dominant over other lions in the fight for food tend to inhabit the park’s northern mountains where year-round prey is available.

While it is a large predator, it is not always the dominant species in its range, as when it competes for prey with animals such as the gray wolf, black bear, and the grizzly bear. It is a reclusive cat and usually avoids people. Attacks on humans remain rare, despite a recent increase in frequency. Most attacks are in states where hunting is not allowed, and they have lost their fear of humans. In these areas the cougars are often times over populated and have decimated their primary food source, deer.

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