The cougar (Puma concolor), also referred to as mountain lion, puma, deer tiger, red tiger, and “tigre” (Spanish) has the largest geographic range of any native terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, from Canada, through the United States, Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile. Cougars are found in a broad range of habitats, in all forest types as well as lowland and montane desert. Their range spans 28 countries, with their presence being uncertain in Uruguay. The cougar is native to Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, United States, Uruguay and Venezuela.
While the cougar is an adaptable and resilient cat, and occupies every major habitat type of the Americas (including the high Andes), it was eliminated from the entire eastern half of North America within the 200 years following European colonization. A remnant endangered subpopulation persists in Florida, and records of cougars in northeastern Canada, the eastern and especially the midwest U.S., are on the rise, indicating possible recolonization. The cougar is listed as "Least Concern" because it remains so widespread. However, despite reports that cougar sightings are on the rise in the eastern U.S., rangewide, the species is considered to be declining.
A Species Under Threat
Cougars are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, and over hunting of their wild prey base by humans, often influencing increased attacks on domesticated livestock. Because of this, they are persecuted across their range by retaliatory hunting due to livestock depredation, and due to real or perceived threat they pose to humans.
Cougars are legally hunted in many western U.S. states, although hunting was banned by popular vote in California in 1990 (California and Florida are the only two states where hunting is banned). For the endangered subpopulation of Florida panthers, road kills are the principal cause of mortality; heavily travelled roads are major barriers to cougars across their range, impacting their movements and dispersal patterns, and affecting breeding and their long-term survival.
Outside of Canada, Mexico, Peru, and the U. S. (where hunting regulations are in place), cougars are protected across much of their range. Hunting is prohibited in most of Argentina and all of Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay.
How We're Helping
Panthera is focused on key activities to address threats to cougars in North America, such as conflict mitigation and education, as well as the collection of valuable scientific data to determine how to effectively and sustainably manage cougars in a human-dominated landscape. Panthera currently has two projects being led by cougar expert and the Executive Director of the Jaguar Program, Dr. Howard Quigley: The California Cougar Project and the Teton Cougar Project.
More than half of California’s 99 million acres is optimal cougar habitat. Panthera’s California Cougar Project is evaluating the existence and potential of corridors, linking cougar populations state-wide, which would positively impact other species and their ecosystems. Using these results, Panthera will be developing an outreach program to educate communities about ways to live with cougars and to communicate the benefits of mountain lions to conservation overall. The project hopes to reverse the trend of habitat loss and fragmentation, and build resiliency in these habitats through connectivity, by identifying the corridors that can link and ultimately protect California’s cougar populations.
Now in its eleventh year, the Teton Cougar Project , a joint Panthera - Craighead Beringia South initiative, uses radio collars to track and gather ecological data on the cougar population of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. This data helps Panthera understand cougar population dynamics, cougar interactions with competing carnivores, as well as with humans, and provides important baselines for our long-term cougar conservation programs. The project works with a wide variety of cooperators to succeed in this study area, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and several private landowners and local non-government organizations.
While 32 subspecies have been classically described, the latest genetic analyses (Culver et al. 2000) suggest that there are six subspecies, but ongoing debate surrounds a possible seventh (the Florida panther):
P. c. cougar: North America
P. c. coryi: North America, Florida only
P. c. costaricensis: Central America
P. c. capricornensis: eastern South America
P. c. concolor: northern South America
P. c. cabrerae: central South America
P. c. puma: southern South America
Read Panthera's Cougar Report Card: The State of the Cougar.