The state of California covers more than 99 million acres (400,000 km2). Of that, approximately half of the state is considered occupied cougar habitat. In addition, cougars are competing with a growing population of more than 35 million people. Although jaguars and grizzly bears once roamed the state, both of those carnivores are now extinct, leaving the cougar and the black bear as the only two large carnivores in the state, and the cougar as the only obligate large carnivore.
In California in the 1970’s, the cougar was the center of controversy, eventually becoming protected under the provisions of Proposition 117 that outlawed cougar sport/trophy hunting and set aside funds for cougar habitat protection. Since that time, surprisingly little effort has been made to develop a comprehensive approach to cougar conservation in the state of California. However, recent movement in a few focal areas indicates new interest and may provide some fruitful ground for cougar conservation. Given the size of the state, the level of human development, and the amount of cougar habitat still available, there is a strong potential for high-impact conservation of this big cat.
Howard Quigley, Executive Director of Panthera's Jaguar Program and cougar expert, leads Panthera’s California Cougar Project, which was initiated in March 2008. The first year of the program focused on gathering critical information about cougars in California and forming strategic partnerships with people, organizations and agencies active in cougar conservation in the state. Dr. Quigley and his team also identified key threats to cougar populations, and determined the largest challenges to California’s cougars are loss and fragmentation of habitat and lack of public education and knowledge about this species.
Panthera is working with key partners to develop a better understanding of California’s wild landscapes, particularly important habitat for cougar corridors. Cougars are a “keystone” species in California, meaning as a top predator, they help to maintain ecosystem function and their presence greatly affects the delicate balance of California’s ecosystems. One of the California Cougar Project's main goals is to identify and test corridor characteristics that have especially high potential for cougars, and to mitigate human-cougar conflict, and increase tolerance of people, who share their homes with this largely misunderstood big cat.
Read Panthera's Cougar Report Card: The State of the Cougar.
Click here to: Meet the Cougar