Natural History of Cougars
Mountain lions are also called cougars, panthers, catamounts, or pumas. They are the largest cats in North America.
These solitary animals avoid people if they can. Their primary prey is deer, but they do eat porcupines, raccoons, birds, small mammals, foxes, mice, and grass.
The lion is a magnificent animal which was hunted to near extinction and is now making a comeback.
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. An adult can weigh up to 200 pounds.
Young mountain lions have spots and a ringed tail, and thus are sometimes mistaken for bobcats. (The bobcat has a short tail, while the lion has a long tail.) A litter of one to six young are born between late winter and mid-summer. The cubs stay with their mother for one or two years.
Lion tracks show four toes on the front foot and four toes on the hind foot. The retractable claws do not show in the prints. Lion tracks can be over four inches long.
They 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 when hunting. Lions 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.
Here is a lion track I found near Albee Creek Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in April, 1998. It was a good print in mud and I made a plaster cast of it.
Personal Notes on Cougars
I have found cougar tracks many times. Many of the tracks belong to a young lion who has moved into one of my favorite tracking areas. I have heard many cougar stories from people who have lived in this area for many years. There is a town near here called Panther Gap, supposedly because of all the cougars that lived there when this area was first settled. (Donít bother looking on a map. Even on local maps, there is nothing to indicate Panther Gap. Itís just too small.)
This lion can leap pretty high. I found tracks once where it leaped up onto a big redwood log from the ground. A pretty good leap from a standstill. Despite all the negative stories about cougars, I still enjoy finding their tracks. I saw my first lion in July, 1998. It ran across Highway 101 right in front of me. This was about four miles south of the town of Weott, California. It was a young lion.
Got a cougar story? E-mail me and tell me about it.
Copyright © 1997. Text and drawings by Kim A. Cabrera