The puma – also known as the cougar, mountain lion, panther, and catamount – lives in 28 countries in the Americas. Despite its wide range, the puma is poorly understood and thought to be declining overall.
The State of the Puma
The puma has the largest geographic range of any native terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere, spanning 28 countries from southern Alaska down to the southern tip of Chile.
The puma is listed as a species of "Least Concern" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Pumas were eliminated from the entire eastern half of North America, except for a tiny population in Florida, within 200 years of European colonization. Today, the remnant puma population in Florida is endangered but recovering.
The status of puma populations in Central and South America is largely unknown, but many are suspected to be in decline.
The species is threatened by legal and illegal killing, including bounty hunting and poaching; human-puma conflict, which is exacerbated by old mythology perpetuating fear of pumas; loss of prey due to overhunting by people and agricultural land developments; and habitat loss and fragmentation.
"As scientists, we now know how integral pumas are to the ecosystems of North America, and we are determined to give them the spotlight they deserve. It’s time to shed light on the true nature of this fascinating and often misunderstood top predator." - Dr. Mark Elbroch, Staff Scientist, Teton Cougar Project
Approximately 4,000 pumas are killed by humans each year in the US and Canada through legal hunting and human-puma conflict. Direct killing by humans -- including pre-emptive and retaliatory killing for livestock predation, legal and illegal sport hunting, and bounty hunting -- poses a significant threat to pumas across their range.
From Wyoming’s Teton Mountains to the Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia, pumas are largely regarded as vermin and hyper-aggressive menaces to pets, livestock, and humans alike. Unfortunately, killing pumas is generally used as a first resort over strategic animal husbandry techniques.
Legal and illegal hunting, including bounty hunting, poses a significant threat to pumas across their range, and direct killing is only encouraged by old mythology that perpetuates the notion that pumas are solitary, vicious predators.
Pumas are also increasingly threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation due to human development of land. Habitat loss and overhunting across the puma’s range also depletes the puma’s natural prey, further straining the survival of puma populations.
Decrease puma killings by at least 20% in critical sites and expand the puma’s range
Panthera’s Puma Program is working to better understand and protect pumas in three key parts of their range: the Western US (northwest Wyoming and the San Francisco Bay Area), the region of Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia and in northern Mexico. Panthera’s work includes studying the effects of wolf reintroduction and human hunting on puma populations, utilizing innovative camera technology to observe the secret social lives of pumas, and mitigating human-puma conflict.
In 2013/2014 the BBC collaborated with the Panthera Puma Program, Wyoming, to make a wildlife documentary about mountain lions. The filming relied on the research, knowledge and cooperation of the Panthera scientists, whose commitment to improving the understanding of mountain lions was integral to the story told in the film.
Panthera research shows pumas are subordinate to other carnivores nearly half the time across their range. They adapt to survive given this competition--and this raises important questions about sustainable hunting.