ORDER CARNIVORA

Family Felicidae - Cats

Puma concolor - Mountain Lion

 

The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a website at COUGAR.

The Eastern Cougar Foundation ( a non-profit organization dedicated to scientific documentation of cougars in eastern North America and advocacy for their protection), located in West Virginia, is highly recommended. 

Cougars can give birth any month of the year. Most litters in surface nests, screened by vegetation, not dens or caves. Advantages of winter birth include other predators (bear and grizzlies) are still in dens, golden eagles aren't around. It's a better time to hunt, half-starved deer, elk and moose are easier to catch, deep snow makes it harder for prey to escape. Dense conifer cover provides warmth and good observation spot for cougars. (Most big cats can breed year round---lions, tigers, leopards)


MOUNTAIN LION, Chris Bolgiano, Stackpole Books (1995)

By the 1980's, it was established practice in biological studies to hire houndsmen to pursue and tree lions, which were then anesthetized examined, and collared.  For as long as the funding lasted, researchers plotted the signals.  

While hunting, cougars can bound 45 ' and leap upwards 15', in part due to the longer rear legs.  They can bring down pronghorn antelope, the fastest animals in North America.  Kerry Murphy studied cougars in Yellowstone.  In the northern Yellowstone, elk calves were the main kill.  Across North America, deer seem to bee the favorite food.  Other prey includes squirrels, snowshoe hares, marmots, beaver, birds, mice, raccoons, and porcupines.  Small prey are especially important in central America, where habitat is shared with the larger jaguars.

Large prey is killed by bites to the neck or throat.  Whiskers help to feel where canines should pierce to sunder the vertebrae and break the spinal cord.  Sometimes the cougar is forced to asphyxiate the prey, which takes much longer and exposes the cougar to danger from flailing hooves.  While large prey is hidden, the locations don't always make sense, with the prey moved large distances to poor sites, when excellent closer sites are not used.  

Able to eat 5 to 15 pounds at a seating, the cougar starts with the heart, lungs, and liver, proceeding to the muscles, and ending with the marrow inside cracked bones.  Only stomach, intestines, head, hide and a few large bones are left.  

Often cougar are prempted from their kills by bear and wolves.  Other times, cougar just abandon the prey after one or two feedings, leaving the rest to other animals.  

Occassionally, cooperation between siblings or mother/daughters is seen in catching prey.

Habitat loss is bigger impact on cougar populations, not hunting pressures (with some localized exceptions).  Habitat corridors emerged in the 1980's.

In a White Sands, NM study (Kenny Logan), hot, grasslands habitat precluded standard dog hunting. (No trees for cougar treeing, too hot for both dogs and cougars, and, with no trees, cougars more likely to defend themselves and injure both dogs and cougars.  So, researchers used leg snares, with good success of snaring without injuring cougars (2 of 151 ended in cougar fatalities, and one broken leg).  This was the best study results known, versus Texas dog hunting study, where only 8 of 70 darted cougars were successfully relocated, the rest apparently succumbing to heat.  

Male ranges are more fluid than females; the male range encompassing several female ranges.  Females give birth at two years of age; in the White sands, giving birth every 17 months.  Cougars can give birth year-round, but some regions have a surge in births at particular times of the year.  At White Sands, it occurs during late summer and fall, when mule deer also give birth and lion food in the form of fawns is abundant.  Like humans, lion populations tend to birth more females than males.  

After the first year and a half (highest rate of deaths), young disperses, males further away than females - up to 100+ miles away. They are very vulnerable during this roaming into unknown lands.  This is where habitat corridors is valuable.

Many cougars are killed by larger cougars.  Half of cougar deaths in White Sands study resulted from cougars.  Almost always males are the aggressors.  Males kill other males (and occasionally females - not ones mated by the male) that enter home range, or kittens; even those belonging to the male, if the female wasn't present.  One story of a large young male taking over range of an older male; the elder moved to the northern limits of his range, but the youngster continued pushing elder north into other male ranges.  Eventually, the elder took on and killed the younger, reclaiming its range.   Quality of habitat determines extent of hostility.

Lion hunting is by far the largest single cause in lion deaths. (Conflicts with earlier habitat loss statement?).  

Utah study simulated hunting pressure by relocating caught cougars to another area.  This to test hypothesis that when cougars are 'harvested', other young will fill in open habitat.  This was not found to happen the following year.  Natural death causes seemed to prevent this from happening.  White Sands researchers suggest hunting caused increased fighting among lions occurred by increasing the opportunities for competition over empty territories.

Arizona study of cougar diets, showed most all cougars ate cattle calves; it wasn't a case of a few calf killers.  This, possibly the result of the relatively mild climate that allowed year-round cattle operations. In other places, cougar took sheep, but this was more localized, and the result of a few cougars.  Management of cattle loss suggested bringing the herd down from the mountains and out of lion habitat during calving season, which just happened to be the time of the year when deer numbers were at their lowest.  If management consisted of 'harvesting' cougar, empty territories would attract dispersing cougars from other regions, who might just eat even more cattle.  Cougar control, which was a considerable operating expense, would have to be continuous until all cougars were eliminated, or else it might well be counterproductive.

Studies on the Kaibab deer  population, and the impact of cougar populations on the deer pop were all inconclusive.  The only conclusion seemed to be that hunting had little impact on cougar pops.

In Texas, cougars can be killed by anyone with a valid hunting license, anytime, by any means. there are no bag limits, no closed seasons, on obligation to report an kills.  Thus, Texas has no problem with poaching; there is no such thing.  It is unprotected.  With jaguars, wolves and grizzly bears killed off long ago and black bears reduced to a  pittance, the cougar takes center stage as the biggest little varmint in Texas. Efforts to change cougar status from unprotected nongame to game animals (enabling legal protections like season and bag limits) have failed.  

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In 1969, California reclassified cougars as game animals.  The first regulated cougar hunting season was held during the winter of 1970-1971. 83 were killed.  The second season had only 35 killed; thus the high pop assumed by the state was not valid.  In 1971, a four year moratorium was legislated.  Margaret Owings is the big organizer of the CA protection.  She has organized state efforts since then to continue the moratorium.  In  June 1990, Proposition 117 passed, prohibiting sport hunting of cougar and the annual budget of 30 million for habitat purchase for all species.  Killing for livestock or pet prey was ok.  

From 1890 to 1990, ten people had been killed by cougar in CA, and 48 injured.  Dogs kill 10 persons every year, 200,000 dog attacks require stitches every year; 12 killed annually from rattlesnakes, about 40 a year by bee stings, and nearly a hundred by lightning.  Most victims were unaccompanied children and all fatalities were unaccompanied children.  Most adult victims were alone.  It is said that, contrary to grizzlies, fight back (do not curl into a ball) and make eye contact - stare down the cougar - he'll shy away.  And look large, make noise.  

There were more attacks from 1970 - 1990 than the previous 80 years, which was used by prohunters that controls were needed.  The reality was more than half of these attacks were in British Columbia, where hunting is allowed, and  most of these attacks were on Vancouver Island, where hunting is allowed, prey is limited, and the passive cougars hunted out, leaving only aggressive fighters to kill dogs and rake humans to escape being hunted.  Of course, suburban infringement on cougar habitat has some bearing on human/cougar encounters.

A study by Paul Bier for Orange County, CA, following radio-collared cougar, showed they did virtually everything possible to avoid people, despite having to use corridors through busy suburban developments.  

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Florida panthers are different from western cougars, a subspecies, Felis concolor coryi.  Female panthers are sexually mature at 18 months, much earlier than western subspecies.  Male Florida panthers have the largest territories yet documented for any mountain lions; up to four hundred square miles in the wettest, and poorest habitats of the Everglades.  Even in these large areas, males are known to kill other males.  Mercury poisoning has killed at least one panther and was probably debilitating others.  

The official definition of the Florida panther included the white flecks around the head, a cowlick and a kinked tail.  The white flecks were then found to be caused by tick bites, and cats began to turn up without the cowlick or the kinked tail.

A family named Piper raised more than half a dozen young panthers at Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Spring in the 1940s and 50s.  These had been orphaned or found by hunters, then bred with other cougars, with seven of the offspring, referred to as the Piper stock, being released with approval into the Everglades National Park in the 1950s and 1960s.  And, with an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 captive pet cougars in Florida, it is safe to say some of their owners released some.

In the early 1990's, the US Recovery Plan for the panthers called for removing cats from the wild for breeding.  Many said no due to deaths that would happen with the recovery or due to the social disruption among cats remaining in the wild.  Melody Roelke, was hired as vet after the first research-related panther death.  She became proponent of capture plan. She found genetic problems, such as an increasing number of males with an undescended testicle; never before reported in a wild cat pop.  Their sperm was malformed.  Heart murmurs and other cardiac defects, again unknown in cats, killed more and more kittens and debilitated adults.  Infectious pathogens associated with disarmed immune systems killed kittens and adults alike.  Statistical models all showed an extinction vortex, where extinction was predicted within 25 to 63 years if panthers were left along.  35 to 50 were all that was known to exist in the wild.  Even if 100 to 200 existed, the genetic diversity was inadequate for long-term existence.  Conservation biologists estimated that 500 were needed for a single population, and that several of these populations should exist within reach of each other for exchange of genes.

Unlike captive breeding projects for three other endangered species - red wolves, black-footed ferrets, and California condors, which removed the entire known population from the wild, only individual, unrelated panthers would be identified for capture.  Eight adults and eighteen kittens were to be taken over three years.  Most would go to White Oak Plantation, near the Florida/Georgia border.  Roelke found that panthers from the Everglades were genetically different from panthers in Big Cypress.  Roelke found the Everglades pop had some Central or South American panther genes (probably from the Piper stock).  If this pop mated with the Big Cypress stock, the legal entitled protection afforded by the ESA would be in question.  (This had already happened when genes of coyote were found in the gray and red wolves -  the American Sheep Industry Association petitioned for delisting of the red wolf and several western state Farm Bureaus did the same for the gray wolf because they were 'clearly hybrids'.  (The ESA, passed in 1973, was enacted before the advent of genetic studies, thus not addressed.)  The Interior denied both petitions, saying all panthers were subject to the ESA.  Meanwhile, young male anthers began turning up with both testicles undescended, making them sterile.  in an abrupt change of policy from captive breeding, project leaders proposed outbreeding; ie, bringing in six Texas cougar females.  (Since Florida panthers had exchanged genes with Texas cougars along the western border historically, this would rejoin the gene flow.  This would also eliminate whatever purity might remain in the Florida panther genes.  It would also be a lot cheaper than in-house captive breeding.)  In 1994, outbreeding was approved. The biggest problem is loss of habitat.  What is foreseen is collared panthers being captured from private lands and returned to public lands, females implanted with embryos created in zoos, then recaptured for repeat duty as surrogates.  The same eventually with the young pop.  This being an engineered approximation of nature.

Reintroduction of Texas cougars to northern Florida occurred in the late 1980s to determine if panther habitat existed outside of southern Florida.  Although succumbing to poachers and roadkills, a second reintroduction of ten cougars occurred in 1993.  These were sterilized to prevent breeding (both batches).  The emphasis was cooperation with large private landowners to increase habitat.  It's worked fairly well.  

The Recovery Plan calls for three viable, self-sustaining pops in Florida.  Chris Belden was in charge of FL program (had worked in Smokies with wild boar control - was the first head of Florida Recovery Plan, but had quit in conflicts with policies.)  Two were now under development, and Chris likes the idea of Smokies being a third.  Nothing else known at the time of this book (1995).

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The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service sponsored a field study to look into increasing claims of panthers in eastern US (north of Florida).  Bob Downing was selected to lead the study.  He found records of dozens killed in NC since 1900, another dozen or so in nearby states, and a 1965 specimen in LA and mounted trophies in Arkansas and TN from the 1970s.  After three years, no proof of prints, scat, or carcasses were found. In the meantime, the FWS had studied western habitat and found tracks in snow in 100% of the attempts, and, even without snow, 25% of attempts found physical evidence at chosen sites.  Downing wrote a Recovery Plan as required by the ESA, but it was not implemented; as far as the FWS was concerned, it was satisfied no pop existed in the east.

No black panthers have ever been documented in North America.  A few black jaguars have been found in South America.  Ten black bobcats have been documented in southern FL, six since 1970.  One black bobcat was discovered in New Brunswick in the early 1990s.  

Scat and clear tracks were positively identified in 1993 of a cougar in New Brunswick. Later, a video in New Brunswick was made - fairly convincing.

1994 confirmed tracks in Maine.  Scat found the same year in Vermont was confirmed as scat.

A carcass salvaged from a dumpster in NC in the late 1970s believed to be a cougar, turned out to be a female African lion.  A ditch in NC also yielded the skeleton of a young African lion in 1982.

A South Carolina animal farm dealer offers cougar kittens, adults as well as jaguars, leopard, black leopards, Bengal tigers and others (with proper Dept of Interior permits!).  

In 1974, a WV cougar was killed and one captured with parasites and behavior associated with being caged.

A 1971 TN cougar killed and mounted was declawed.

A 1967 young female cougar was killed in PA, with odd deformities suggesting she was a former captive.  With her, was a larger companion.

John Lutz, of Baltimore has been logging locations of sitings.  Has sponsored Eastern Cougar Conferences.

If coyotes made the migration north, through the great lakes and then down the Appalachians, why couldn't cougars?  Coyote sighters/sightings had been ridiculed for years before final acceptance.

Dave Foreman, head of Wildlands Project, supporting wildlife corridors.

Designation of two eastern subspecies exist; the Florida panther (F. concolor coryi) and the Eastern cougar (F. concolor couguar).  Interestingly, the basis of identification of the eastern cougar is based on measurements of seven skulls and the appearance of one skin!

Dr. Brocke, speaking at 1994 Eastern Cougar Conference (worked with Downing in early 1980s) said he concluded that 'a potentially reintroduced cougar population cannot survive the high level of man-induced mortality which is probable in Adirondack Park at this writing.' A population of 50 to 100 introduced cougars would be extinct within ten years.  He suggests we have to manage for less risks (hunters, roadkills,etc), rather than for habitat conditions to enable cougar population.  You do this by clearcutting large areas (100 - 200 acres) once every 100 years, thin it once, and then leave alone.  No roads allowed, with tax breaks allowed for land owners.  


 

SMITHSONIAN RAP LECTURE (Dr. John Laudry - Idaho) (11/94) - 1986 started cougar study with Earthwatch.

Results of work show more young than old in cougar pops. Most active crepuscularly, like deer prey. Cougars prefer wooded forest edge, since deer pass through here going from deep woods protection to open grazing.

AUDUBON NATURALIST NEWS (10/95) - Jay Tischendorf, founder and director of the American Ecological Research Institute (AERIE) in Colorado and Dr. Steven Ropski of Gannon College in Pennsylvania, organized the first ever Eastern Cougar Conference last year. John Lutz, runs the Eastern Puma Research Network in Baltimore. Pumas have no permanent den, traveling up to 25 miles in a night. Only eight museum species of the original eastern species exist. Although positive proof has only been found in New England (tracks, scat and hair), most officials agree that some pumas exist throughout the eastern mountains. The only question is whether these are western releases (puma babies can be bought in NC and Texas), South American releases, or descendants of the native stock. (Chris Bolgiano, "Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People", Stackpole Books, is referenced.) Teddy Roosevelt was very active in eliminating the puma pop (65 thousand killed throughout the West), resulting in the increase in deer from 4 to 100 thousand in only 20 years.

NATURAL HISTORY (12/94) - While most North American mammals give birth in spring, cougars can give birth any month of the year. Most litters are in surface nests, screened by vegetation, not dens or caves. Advantages of winter birth include other predators (bear and grizzlies) are still in dens, golden eagles aren't around. It's a better time to hunt half-starved deer, elk and moose are easier to catch, and deep snow makes it harder for prey to escape. Dense conifer cover provides warmth and good observation spot for cougars. Most tropical big cats can breed year round---lions, tigers, leopards---perhaps the cougar evolved in warmer climates and brought this characteristic with it northward. Males and females lead very separate and different lives, both in their hunting patterns and in their use of territory. Females have very small ranges based upon food resources. Males have ranges several times larger than females, overlapping the range of up to eight females. The male wanders around, passing females until one is receptive. He then spends four or five days mating with the receptive female and then says, Iíll call you. In many large mammals like elk, deer and bear, whose males mate with several females (polygyny), all females come into estrus at the same time. These males must drop their plans in order to insure their breeding opportunities. For cougars, whose females have monthly estrus cycles, this means the male must always be checking things out to ensure no transient males take advantage of his absence.  This presents a problem inasmuch as males can kill a 300 pound elk that would take three weeks to eat.  As a result, males typically gorge themselves and cover the prey so they can maintain vigilance on their female friends.  Even if that may mean he may lose his food source to intruders or rot, it is not as important as losing a mating opportunity with a female, who, if impregnated,  will not become receptive again for up to two years.


 

There are about 5,000 cougars in CA, 2,000 in ID, 2,500 in British Columbia and 700 in Alberta, and growing. Two runners have been killed in the last five years (one in CA and CO). Cougars are exceptional in that, among solitary hunters, they alone attack prey bigger than themselves (so do leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and lynxes).


 

Bill Cook (SNP) says three panthers shot in Wva in 1996. One was declawed; the other two unknown if wild or releases. Talked about growing up and crossing the Florida state line and finding roadside stands that sold western mountain lion cubs---obviously many released during 50's. He believes this is heritage of current population, not so much the South American releases. Nonetheless, not probably native pop; not subject to Endangered Species Act.

Florida panther

Puma concolor coryi

The US Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a website at  PANTHER.

National Geographic (3/91) - 30 to 50 Florida panthers exists in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, separated by the 30 mile wide Shark River slough. Now it is believed that a gene shows that these are hybrids of south American panthers released in the 50's. This could preclude them from protection from the Endangered Species Act.

NATIONAL WILDLIFE (89?) - 33 panthers have been radio-collared in the Everglades/Big Cypress Swamp region of south Florida. The Florida panther, Felis concolor coryi, is one of 13 subspecies found in North America. Populations are isolated so that gene mixing is prohibited. Two main pops exist; one in the Big Cypress and a smaller group in the Everglades, separated by the 30 mile wide Shark River Slough. The last capture was between the two pops so maybe some mixing is occurring. The two pops look different and it seems the Everglades pop is different from the main panther pop. Over 1.5 million acres have been set aside in South Florida as National Parks or state preserves.

DISCOVERY (95) - With fewer than 50 Florida panthers left in the wild, eight Texas female cougars have been added to three southern Florida parks. Incest within the few remaining panthers has resulted in congenital heart problems and 90 percent of the males having at least one undescended testicle, decreasing sperm count.