Puma, Panther, Mountain lion, Catamount
The cougar (Puma concolor) is a large cat native to the Americas. It is the most widespread of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Due to its wide range, the cougar has many names, including puma, Mountain lion, catamount, and panther. The cougar is the second-largest cat in the New World, after the jaguar (Panthera onca ). Despite its size, the cougar is more closely related to smaller felines, including the domestic cat (Felis catus ) than to any species of the subfamily Pantherinae. Two extant subspecies are recognised — South American courgar and North American courgar.
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The cougar is large and slender with a short coarse coat. Its color ranges from yellowish to grayish brown except for the belly, which is a paler color. The chest and throat are whitish. Their nose is pinkish, with a black border extending to the lips. There are black stripes on its muzzle, and the areas behind its ears and the tip of its tail are black. The eye color of the adults is grayish-brown to golden. They have a long, cylindrical tail that measures about one-third of their total length. Their limbs are muscular and short, and they have broad feet, with five digits on the front feet and five on the back feet.
The geographic range of the cougar is the greatest of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, from Canadian Yukon through the US, Central, and South America to the southern tip of Chile. Cougars were extirpated from the eastern and central parts of North America within 200 years following European colonization, except for the remnant subpopulation in south Florida. Cougars live in a wide variety of environments including montane coniferous forests, grassland, swamps, lowland tropical forests, dry brush country, and any other areas that offer adequate cover and prey. They use dense vegetation, rocky crevices, and caves for shelter.
Cougars are solitary animals and keep away from other individuals except during mating. Males will keep together immediately after having left their mother, but hardly ever as older adults. They are primarily nocturnal. Although capable of sprinting, cougars are typically ambush predators. They stalk through brush and trees, across ledges, or other covered spots, before delivering a powerful leap onto the back of their prey and a suffocating neck bite. The cougar is capable of breaking the neck of some of its smaller prey with a strong bite and momentum bearing the animal to the ground. The cat drags a kill to a preferred spot, covers it with a brush, and returns to feed over a period of days. Cougars communicate through visual and olfactory signals, and males will often make scrapes in the snow or soil. The noises they make include hisses, growls, and bird-like whistles.
Cougars are carnivores that mainly eat large mammals, especially deer, and will also eat coyotes, beavers, porcupines, mice, marmots, raccoons, hares, birds, and sometimes grasshoppers. They will prey on domestic livestock, such as poultry, sheep, calves, goats, and pigs.
Cougars have a polygynous mating system in which one male mates with more than one female during the breeding season. Mating can occur throughout the year, but in northern latitudes is mostly from December to March. Females tend to give birth every other year, to 1-6 kittens, following a gestation period of 90-96 days. They give birth in dens lined with vegetation or moss, usually within a protected place such as a rock shelter, a pile of rocks, a crevice, a thicket, or a cave. The kittens stay with their mothers until 1-2 years old. At about 40 days they are fully weaned. Females become reproductively mature at about 2.5 years of age and males at about 3. They do not reproduce until after they have established a permanent home area.
Cougars are killed by sport hunters and also by farmers protecting their livestock. Habitat loss, poaching of their wild prey base, and car accidents are further threats, as well as capture for zoos.
The IUCN has estimated the cougar's total breeding population at fewer than 50,000. As of 1996, the Canadian population was roughly estimated at 3,500-5,000. US state-level statistics suggest that cougar populations have rebounded. A healthy population of 5,000 was reported in Oregon, in 2006, exceeding a 3,000 target. California may have between 4,000 and 6,000, but this state actively seeking to protect the animal. As of 2013, the Florida subspecies of cougar numbers only 160 animals in the wild. The population in Central and South America is likely much higher than in North America, although even rough estimates are unavailable. Overall, currently, cougars are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List; however, their numbers today are decreasing.
Cougars have importance as top predators within their ecosystems. They have a role in controlling large ungulate populations.