Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The cougar's range covers the western portions of North America and continues all the way south to Argentina.

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The cougar’s strong jaw and long canine teeth enable it to take prey up to four times its size.

Scientific name: Puma concolor
Average weight: 55 kg–80 kg (male)
35 kg–55 kg (female)
Average length: 2 m (including tail; male slightly larger than female)
Average lifespan: 10–12 years
A cougar perched on a rock above a grassy field.

About

Biology

As one of Canada’s largest land predators (second only to bears), the cougar is powerfully built. It has a long, very muscular body, but its head and ears are relatively small. Its hind legs are larger than its front legs, giving it more strength for pouncing on its prey. Yet its front paws are larger than the rear ones, allowing it to hold down its prey, which is especially important if it’s hunting a large animal.

The cougar is the second largest wild cat found in the Americas, the biggest being the South American jaguar. Similar to others in the feline family, the cougar’s sharp claws are retracted while it’s walking and emerge only when it’s going after prey. Its tail grows up to one metre in length, setting the cougar apart from other wild cats, like the bobcat and lynx. This very long tail is important for balance.

The cougar’s short fur can be red, grey or yellowish to dark brown. The throat, chest, chin and whiskers are white.

Habitat and behaviour

The cougar adapts well to a variety of environments — from deserts and mountains to all types of forests (rain forest, temperate, boreal, coniferous) — as long as there is good cover. Camouflage is important, whether the cat is selecting a birthing site, such as a pile of deadfall or rocks, or hunting prey. In fact, the cougar rarely chases its food, preferring to stalk it and make a surprise attack.

The cougar keeps to itself and often hunts alone. Sometimes a male cougar urinates or defecates on piles of dirt or leaves to discourage other males from hunting in its territory. The cougar tends to avoid direct contact with humans and is rarely seen. It is so good at camouflage that a person can be within one metre of a cougar and not spot it. Although attacks on humans are rare, they do occur, and when they do, people are encouraged to fight back as strongly as possible.

A combination of excellent eyesight and hearing and an acute sense of smell gives the cougar an edge when hunting. Its field of vision spans 130 degrees, and its large eyes are well suited for the nighttime prowling it enjoys.

Range

The cougar has one the largest ranges of all land mammals in the western hemisphere. It can be found from near the top of North America, around the Yukon-British Columbia border, down to the southern tip of Argentina. Its population once stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but habitat destruction and persecution by humans have critically endangered the eastern population.

In Canada, most cougars are found in the west, mainly in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. However, there have been sightings across the Prairies and in southern Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, although the majority of these sightings have proved to be cougars from southern areas that were released into the wild or escaped from captivity.

Because of the wide scope of its population, the cougar has been given about 40 common names, such as mountain lion, puma, panther and pi-twal, meaning “the long-tailed one.”