Mountain Lions Are Cool

Whether you call it a mountain lion, cougar, panther, painter, puma, deer tiger, red tiger or catamount, we sure do love us some Puma concolor – yet we are constantly in conflict with these beautiful cats.

They share the genus Puma with the jaguarundi. Once upon a time, these felids could also be found in Europe and Asia, but today they’re strictly American (south, central and north) cats.

Mountain lion ranges are orange (rare) or red (thriving).  The jaguarundi range is green.  (Wikipedia)

Mountain lion ranges are orange (rare) or red (thriving). The jaguarundi range is green. (Wikipedia) The range of the pink panther is electronic or in dead forests.

Where can you find them?

Jaguarundis are usually found in South America, Central America and Mexico, but mountain lions have a much wider range and are at home just about anywhere other than the Arctic.

Mountain lions disappeared from eastern North America after the Europeans arrived, except for a small population in Florida, although more sightings are being reported in the East now. Those are probably escaped pets, but several wild mountain lions have been hit by cars around Kansas City, Missouri.

Out west, mountain lions held on and today are pretty common, particularly in suburban California.

Are they dangerous?


That said, mountain lion attacks are rare – you’re more likely to die in a dog attack or from a snake bite, bee sting or lightning strike.

Warning sign at Skegg's Point, San Mateo County, California. - click to enlarge.  (jurvetson via Wikipedia)

Warning sign at Skeggs Point, San Mateo County, California. – click to enlarge. (jurvetson via Wikipedia)

But don’t underestimate them, for mountain lions are the largest of the “small cats” and the fourth largest cat in the world.

Per Wikipedia, an adult male can stand 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder and span almost 8 feet from nose to tail. The males average about 137 pounds (62 kg) in weight, but can go up over 200 pounds (91 kg).

The Arizona Game and Fish Department website reports that mountain lions have killed 20 people in North America between 1890 and 2004, and injured 88 more. In addition, they say, ‘[t]here are numerous reports of “close encounters’ (attacks resulting in no injury), here, and throughout the US and Canada.”

These obligate carnivores prefer deer, but if those aren’t around, a mountain lion will go after other animals, including livestock, pets, and yeah, us, too.

That’s not very cool

Well, it is and it isn’t.

We’ve done such a good job insulating ourselves from the world’s hazards and discomforts, we forget that it’s not a very cool place for most living beings.

The bottom line, 24/7/365, is that you have to get food without becoming food.

Humans are the adult mountain lion’s only predator, but wolf packs and bears will attack them at a kill, go after their cubs and compete with them for prey.

Meanwhile, people are moving further and further out into former wild areas, driving away the mountain lion’s natural prey and changing its environment in ways that are sometimes incomprehensible to them (remember the ones hit by cars around Kansas City, mentioned above).

Life is rough for them and they’re generally more scared of us than we are of them…

…and that’s not cool on our part.

We need to respect their wildness and danger more.

All cats are unpredictable (massive understatement). What would that guy have done if the mountain lion had charged him?

He should have been in a car – and he would have been if this were Africa and that was a real lion (a pantherine felid rather than a feline felid like the mountain lion) or some other big cat.

For some reason, we think of mountain lions as safer than lions, tigers, and cheetahs, perhaps because they don’t live in Africa and we’ve put them into cartoons and named our cars, shoes, operating systems, etc., after them.

Why not? They’re about our size, and they look kind of like domestic cats – no mane or stripes or spots (on adults anyway). Mountain lions are really easy to anthropomorphize. Aw, the pretty kitty…

…and then something like this happens (not a gory video):

Animal handlers rescued the mountain lion, now famous locally as El Puma Lo Curro, per this news story (Spanish), and took it a rehabilitation center.

Less than three weeks later, it escaped and is still at large.

Mountain lions are cool

Mountain lions are cool precisely because they’re dangerous wild things that live alongside us. They remind us that the natural world is not always a park – they keep us on our toes.

They can and sometimes do prey on us and our domesticated animals – and yet we control their destiny. We eradicated them from eastern North America, after all, and if we put our minds to it, we could fairly easily wipe these predators off the face of the Earth forever.

That’s unthinkable, of course – we’d never do that. Thus the problematic, beautiful Puma concolor forces us to reaffirm our respect for life itself.

Wildlife managers are working on the problem (PDF) and people are debating and being taught protective measures (though the small cats I’ve known all seem to take direct eye contact as a challenge and get aggressive – that particular nugget may not be good advice).

The mountain lions, in the meantime, are being cats.

It’s all they want or know how to do. I’m glad they’re here with us.

Categories: Friday's Casual Cat

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