While 32 subspecies have been classically described, the latest genetic analyses suggest that there are six subspecies,* but ongoing debate surrounds a possible seventh (the Florida panther):
- P. c. cougar: North America
- P. c. corryi: North America, only in the state of Florida
- 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
North American Cougar IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor cougar - North Eastern U.S. and South Eastern Canada Through predator control programs and loss of habitat, cougar range was reduced to areas of the western U.S. and Canada by the late 1800s. Poison, trapping, and hound hunting can be very effective tools for reducing or eliminating cougars. With the establishment of the species as a game animal in most of the U.S. and Canada by 1980, cougar populations have rebounded. In most states and provinces, the estimated populations are in the hundreds and thousands. The natural re-establishment of cougars in the Black Hills of South Dakota appears to have provided a source population for recolonization of the Midwest U.S. by cougars. Education of the public in the Midwest to increase understanding of this carnivore could be key to its re-establishment. In addition, the wide variation in approaches to management – protection in California to unregulated hunting in Texas – makes the conservation and management of this subspecies particularly complex.
More than half of California's 99 million acres is optimal cougar habitat. Panthera's California Cougar Project is evaluating and identifying quality cougar range to develop wildlife corridors protecting cougars, other species and their ecosystems. Using these results, Panthera is developing an outreach program to educate communities about ways to live peaceably with mountain lions and the benefits of mountains lions to overall conservation and human public health. In the southern Greater Yellowstone region, Panthera runs its Teton Cougar Project in partnership with Craighead Beringia South. Just north of Jackson, Wyoming, we track a number of cougars to acquire data on their populations, impacts on prey, interactions with competing large carnivores and effects on human development.
IUCN Conservation status: Formally listed as Critically Endangered, has not been listed since 2008
Puma concolor corryi - The Florida panther is a highly threatened representative of cougar (Puma concolor) that lives in forests and swamps of southern Florida in the United States. Its current taxonomic status (Puma concolor coryi or Puma concolor couguar) is unresolved, but recent genetic research alone has not altered the legal conservation status. While this species is also known as the cougar, mountain lion, puma, and catamount but in the Southeast, and particularly Florida, it is known exclusively as the panther.
The Florida panther lives within a range that includes the Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. This population, the only unequivocal cougar representative in the eastern United States, currently occupies only 5% of its historic range. The number of living Florida panthers is estimated to be between 80 and 100.
Overhunting initially reduced this cat to a small area of south Florida, which created a small and isolated population that became inbred. The two highest causes of mortality for Florida panther are automobile collisions and territorial aggression between cats but the primary threats to the population as a whole include habitat loss, habitat degradation, and habitat fragmentation.
Costa Rican Cougar IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor costaricensis - The puma population in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama has been greatly reduced over the past years because public enthusiasm for cougar conservation has waned in comparison to the more appealing jaguar. At the same time, the puma’s lack of spots does not pique the interest of hunters who seek more “desirable” trophies. In this vein, puma populations of this region mildly fluctuate around a steady number regardless of hunting and poaching. Even though these cats are officially listed as protected throughout Latin America, it is not very common to find conservation efforts specifically aimed at this species.
Eastern South American Cougar IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor capricornensis - This subspecies is known to roam regions spanning from southeastern Brazil to northern Argentina. Information about cougars in South America is remarkably scant, and many people are not aware of populations outside of the U.S. Despite that, the majority of the puma’s range extends towards the south; the greater part of the scientific information on this species comes from the U. S. and Canada. Because of this lack of information, it becomes a necessity to invest in focused research and information gathering.
Northern South American Cougar IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor concolor - Because cougar depredation in Northern South America is relatively low, the issue is more about convincing people that cougars are not a major threat to their livelihoods and have ecological value. Cougar hunting has become a big business in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guyana as they are not legally protected in those countries.
Southern South American Puma IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor puma - In Argentina wildlife management is regulated at the provincial level, whereas in Chile it is managed at a national one. In La Pampa, 40 to 60 trophies are reported every year from over ninety ranches that are registered as puma hunting concessions. The true number hunted is probably much greater – perhaps in the thousands – because many ranchers and hunting operators do not follow the legal restrictions and report numbers killed.
Argentine Puma IUCN Conservation status: Least Concern
Puma concolor cabrerae - The Argentine puma makes its home in regions of western and central Argentina. Because most of the Patagonian land is occupied by private farms, these cats are forced to prey on livestock for sustenance. Human encroachment has driven them to hunt on the properties of local farmers and has created a turbulent environment for this subspecies. The puma has been considered a major pest for decades and was so effectively eliminated from its natural habitat that conflict is now limited to a few areas in the northeastern scrub.
*This data was obtained from "Culver et al. 2000"