Mountain Lion

The Essays of Frances Williams ~ June, 1961

Published May 13th 2017 in Wildlife, Mountain Lion, Animal Behavior

Felis concolor has many names: puma, cougar, panther, painter, catamount and mountain lion. In Mexico it is known as lepardo. By whatever name it is called, it is a handsome and extremely interesting member of our fauna and deserves a more sympathetic attitude than is generally held toward it.

Mountain lions originally ranged from Canada to the southern tip of the mainland of South America, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They are found in many diverse habitats, from sea level to elevations over 13,000 feet: in swamps, deserts, forests, mountains, plains. Their range in the United States at the present time includes southern Florida and wilderness areas west of the 100th meridian. In Texas they are found in the mountains of Trans-Pecos and in the counties which border Mexico.

Much has been written about the voice of the mountain lion. Certainly it makes sounds much like a house cat, differing only in proportion to its size: growls, mews, hissings and caterwaulings. A contented mountain lion purrs exactly like a contented tabby. But it is the scream of the panther which has caused so much controversy. Many old-time hunters claim that they have never heard one scream. There is no doubt that many of the shrill "woman-in-agony" screens attributed to the cougar were in reality made by young Great Horned Owls. But Williams Beebe once stood at midnight in front of a caged mountain lion in the Bronx Zoo. He says, "It gave utterance to a loud, long drawn out quavering cry which seemed as if it would never stop: an ominous, menacing, portentous, terrifying and appalling yowl."

At least 80 percent of the total food of mountain lions is deer. Other animals eaten include porcupines, cottontails, jack rabbits, cows, horses, sheep, goats, skunks, foxes, coyotes and prairie dogs. Their preference for deer has led to the extermination of mountain lions in many areas, with disastrous results. The classic example is the destruction of the deer range on the Kaibab plateau in Arizona. Over six thousand large predators – wolves, mountain lions, coyotes and bobcats – were eliminated. In 20 years deer increased from four thousand to 100 thousand. They completely destroyed the plants that they eat, and thousands died of starvation. Mountain lions not only control over-population; they serve a valuable purpose in weeding out sick and deformed animals, keeping the deer herd healthy.

The puma is a great traveler, and usually has a definite circular trail which it follows while searching for game. It may take 18 days to make the complete circuit of its territory. If food becomes scarce on the regular travel-way, it may set up a now trail many miles away. Hunters trailing a mountain lion have found that one may travel 25 miles in a single night when moving to a new territory.

Mountain lions breed once every two or three years and have from one to six kittens. The young are densely spotted and the tail is ringed, 'These markings fade by the time the cubs are a year old. Young pumas are able to kill their own food at the age of six months. At this time they take rabbits, ground squirrels and young fawns. When captured young, lion cubs make excellent pets. They show much fondness for the owner, and are as playful as house cats. A few, when grown, turn against their owners, but more frequently, it is their appetite for sheep and horses and their violent homicidal tendencies toward dogs that require the owner to place them in a zoo.