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Cougars are the most widely distributed wild mammal species in the Western Hemisphere. They range from Northwestern Canada to Patagonia in a variety of habitats and ecosystems. Once one of the most abundant land mammals, they were heavily hunted and their numbers dropped precipitously. They are now found in isolated and fragmented populations in the western United States and Canada and in remote areas of South and Central America (see range map).

Photo by Michael Flaherty

Cougars are generally solitary animals and are rarely seen in the wild. They are reclusive and mostly avoid people, however they do live in very close proximity to dense urban areas like Los Angeles, Seattle, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Cougars prefer habitat with dense underbrush and rocky areas for stalking prey, but they can also live in open areas with human development. They are highly territorial creatures and live in low population densities. A male cougar will typically have a home range between 50 to 150 square miles.

Cougars are active primarily from dusk until dawn. They are an ambush predator, meaning they wait for their prey and perform a surprise attack, often from a hidden position. Deer are their primary source of food, but they will also eat porcupines, raccoons, birds, foxes, mice, and grass. When they successfully hunt deer, cougars will often cover carcasses with leaves and sticks and return to it the next day to continue feeding. Fatal attacks on humans are extremely rare, though they do occasionally happen.

Fun fact: A full-grown cougar can jump 18 vertical feet from a sitting position, and 40 feet horizontally.

Did you know: The cougar has many names, with over 40 different names in English alone. In the United States, the cougar is also referred to as the mountain lion, puma, catamount (cat of the mountain), panther, mountain screamer, and painter (Southern US variation of Panther).

Cougar Historic and Current Range