Silent Hunters

 

Picture2
Mountain Lion, National Geographic Photo

Cougar, Mountain Lion, Panther, Puma…listed in dictionaries under more names than any other animal in the world.  “It is the ultimate loner, a renegade presence in the wildest canyons and wildest mountains, the sign of everything that is remote from us, everything we have not spoiled,” The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.  America’s lion has roamed throughout the Americas for at least 50,000 years.

Native to Oregon, the state is home to more than 5,500 cougars. Males can have home territories of 200 square miles.  Only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile range.  While cougar sightings and encounters are rare, it is wise to educate yourself about the big cats.

Cougars are the 4th largest of the big cats.  A cougar can be identified by its large size, cat-like appearance, consistent tan or tawny body color, and long tail. An adult cougar’s tail is nearly three feet long and a third to a half of its total length. Males can weigh up to 260 lbs.  Females are smaller and can weigh up to 90 lbs.  They can run up to 50 MPH, they can jump over 30 feet long or 18 feet straight up, they are good climbers and can swim if necessary.  Most active at dawn and dusk, cougars are lone hunters.  Cougars are carnivores, they hunt by stealth, and they require eight to ten pounds of meat per day.  Their primary food source is deer, but they will eat elk and smaller animals like raccoons, coyotes, porcupines and other mammals.

COUGAR AND CUB IN WESTERN MONTANA
Mother Cougar and Cub, photo credit Mountain Lion Foundation

Females have one litter, up to six cubs, per year.  Baby kittens are completely dependent on their mother when they are born.  Mama cougars are fiercely protective of her cubs.  Cubs are born with spots and blue eyes.  The spots add camouflage from predators; these fade within about six months.  They grow quickly.  A kitten can survive on it’s own by six months but that is rare.  Typically they will stay with her for twelve to eighteen months.  Cougars can live up to approximately ten years in the wild.

If you ever wonder why we don’t see Cougars more often, these big cats can sleep twenty hours a day.  While actual cougar sightings have increased, coyotes, bobcats and dogs are often mistaken for cougars. If you are in an area where cougars have been spotted, it will be posted.  You can look for signs that a cougar has been there by looking for scat (droppings) or tracks.  Cat tracks are round and typically lack claw marks.  Males will leave scrapes (or scratches).  Cougars do not roar, they scream or “caterwaul” (a shrill howling).  They are the largest cat that can still purr.

mountain lion track
Mountain Lion track

Living or playing in Cougar Country…

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times; especially if you are sitting quietly.
  • Be especially alert at dawn and dusk when they are more likely to be active.
  • Leave your dog at home or keep it on leash.
  • Hike in groups and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Make noise to alert wildlife to your presence.
  • Keep children and pets close to you.
  • Keep campsites clean.  Sleep 100 yards from cooking areas.
  • Store food in animal-proof containers.
  • Do not approach or feed wildlife.  Prey attracts predators. Avoid baby wildlife.
  • Be aware that animal calls and whistles can attract a cougar.

If you encounter a cougar, stay calm and stand your ground.  Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity. Leave the animal a way to escape.  Maintain direct eye contact, back away slowly.  If the cat acts aggressively, make yourself look big by raising your arms and yelling.  Do not show fear, crouch down, turn your back, or run.  If attacked, fight back.  Report all attacks to 9-1-1 as soon as possible.

 

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