This powerful predator roams the Americas, where it is also known as a puma, cougar, and catamount. This big cat of many names is also found in many habitats, from Florida swamps to Canadian forests.
Mountain lions like to prey on deer, though they also eat smaller animals such as coyotes, porcupines, and raccoons. They usually hunt at night or during the gloaming hours of dawn and dusk. These cats employ a blend of stealth and power, stalking their prey until an opportunity arrives to pounce, then going for the back of the neck with a fatal bite. They will hide large carcasses and feed on them for several days.
Mountain lions once roamed nearly all of the United States. They were prized by hunters and despised by farmers and ranchers who suffered livestock losses at their hands. Subsequently, by the dawn of the 20th century, mountain lions were eliminated from nearly all of their range in the Midwest and Eastern U.S.—though the endangered Florida panther survives.
Today, whitetail deer populations have rebounded over much of the mountain lion’s former range and a few animals have appeared in more eastern states such as Missouri and Arkansas. Some biologists believe that these big cats could eventually recolonize much of their Midwest and Eastern range—if humans allow them to do so. In most western U.S. states and Canadian provinces, populations are considered sustainable enough to allow managed sport hunting.
Mountain lions require a lot of room—only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile (78-square-kilometer) range. They are solitary and shy animals, seldom seen by humans. While they do occasionally attack people—usually children or solitary adults—statistics show that, on average, there are only four attacks and one human fatality each year in all of the U.S. and Canada.
Text & photos by National Geographic.