Eastern Cougar Foundation

Cougar Rewilding Foundation

About Cougars East of the Rocky Mountains


The large, tawny, long-tailed cat native to the New World probably has more common names than any other animal: cougar, puma, mountain lion, panther, painter, and catamount are the best known names in the United States, but several dozen additional names have been recorded across North and South America. All refer to the same species of cat, whose current scientific name is Puma concolor. The multiplicity of common names probably arose from the extreme elusiveness of the cats, which made them very difficult to see and understand. Not until radio telemetry became available in the 1970s were wildlife researchers able to identify and track individual cougars to learn how they behaved.



Cougars (along with wolves) were the top predators throughout the forests of eastern North America. The European settlers that began arriving in the late 1500s were familiar with wolves but had no knowledge of cougars, because cougars live only in the New World. Nonetheless, cougars were quickly viewed with the ancient prejudice that Europeans had against all predators. At first, settlers thought cougars were African lions or leopards (the black phase of which is called panther). Only gradually, over a period of about a century, did Americans realize that the cougar was a distinct species. Cougar folklore combined European ideas about predators with Native American knowledge, inextricably mixing psychological fantasy with biological fact. Not until about the mid-twentieth century were scientific methods used to study cougars and determine their true nature.

Because cougars are powerful predators, settlers feared for their own safety and for their livestock. Cougars were hunted with dogs until they were believed extirpated in the eastern United States and Canada by about 1900. Widespread deforestation across the East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the market hunting of deer herds almost to extirpation during that same time span, also contributed to the decline of cougars.

However, cougar sightings in remote areas never completely ceased. By the 1960s, sightings had increased to the point that the eastern cougar was believed to be possibly still existing and was listed on the first Endangered Species Act in 1973. An official U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service search for cougar sign in the late 1970s and early 1980s turned up several likely scats (droppings), but technology available at that time could not confirm them as cougar and no other confirming evidence was found. But in the 1990s, DNA analysis as well as other methods began to confirm field evidence of cougars.

Consequently, the dispute over whether cougars are present in the East has shifted. Many state and federal wildlife officials now acknowledge that some cougars may roam the eastern woods, but claim that these cats cannot be native easterners, and must be released or escaped captives. While evidence collected in the 1990s, such as the kitten killed in Kentucky bearing both North and Latin American DNA, suggested the possibility of breeding between remnant native cougars and former captives, repeated examples of mixed genetic unions have failed to materialize in the past decade. Indeed, since 2000, beyond the Mississippi River basin, evidence has virtually stopped appearing in the eastern United States. Sanctioned studies in the 21st century in NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA, WV, KY, and TN have failed to produce cougar evidence. And incidental evidence like road kills, accidental trappings and shootings, and random wildlife camera photograghs documenting the return of cougars to the Midwest have also not appeared.

Recent evidence collected in eastern Canada suggests they may be surviving in New Brunswick and Quebec, but given the region's historic absence of cougars, it is likely that these, too, are former captives or their descendants. However, recent legal restrictions on the trade and ownership of exotic pets may explain the dwindling of even this apparent source in the eastern United States. With a seventy-year gap existing between late nineteenth century bounty records and the reappearance of isolated evidence coinciding in the 1960s with the burgeoning exotic pet trade, every objective indicator now suggests that native cougars in the East did not survive into the 20th century.

Because of the very small sample size on which the taxonomy of the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar) was established, it is probably impossible to define an "eastern cougar subspecies" even with DNA analysis. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service declared the eastern subspecies extinct in their March 2, 2011 five-year review, and will result in the removal of the eastern cougar from the endangered species list. Until that time, any cougar found in the wild in the East remains protected by both state and federal regulations.

A large body of verified evidence is accumulating that documents movement of wild cougars from west to east. Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Michigan Upper Peninsula report cougars appearing where they haven't been seen in a century or more. Breeding populations in the Dakotas appear to be the likely source for these dispersing cougars, such as the juvenile male that left evidence across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York before being photographed and subsequently hit by an SUV in Connecticut in June of 2011. Like many dispersers before him, his DNA was revealed to be consistent with genetic stock from the Black Hills.

The great majority of these confirmations have been young, subadult males seeking females, the absence of whom is responsible for such long-distance dispersals. Had the Connecticut cat encountered an available female anywhere along his 2000-mile journey, he would undoubtedly have mated with her and settled in to defend his territory. There has been no evidence of wild females or kittens occurring anywhere east of the Prairie states. Because female cougars travel for shorter distances from their natal range than males, the possibility for natural recolonization east of the Prairie colonies remains highly unlikely. 

Cougar populations in the West were also greatly diminished by ranchers aided by government-sponsored predator eradication programs of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some populations of western cougars have rebounded to some extent since the 1970s, when bounties on them were removed. Cougars can be legally hunted in eleven western states.

The regrowth of forests and the successful reintroduction of deer across the East in the twentieth century have now recreated good habitat for cougars. Especially in the southern Appalachians, with more than seven million acres of national forests and parks, in Pennsylvania with its extensive state forests, and in the heavily forested Northeast, the two fundamental necessities of cougar habitat -- cover and prey -- are once again sufficient to support cougar populations. The question of cougar recovery is not so much biological as psychological and political. Will human beings tolerate cougars in the East?



Eastern cougars (now known as Puma concolor couguar) and the Florida panther (now known as Puma concolor coryi) are fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. Because no one can visually distinguish these subspecies from other possible cougar subspecies in the woods, and because even DNA analysis cannot define a genetic profile for the eastern cougar subspecies, all cougars living wild in the East must be considered protected under the Act from all harm and harassment.



There is no reason to think that cougars native to the East were significantly different in biology or behavior than cougars out West. Below are some basic facts about cougars. To find more information, see the Bibliography and Related Links.

Original Range: Cougars were native throughout most of North and South America when European colonizers arrived in 1492. Except for tundra, which offers no cover from which to ambush prey, cougars lived in every type of habitat from coastal swamps to high elevation mountains.

Home Range: Cougars are territorial and males defend their home ranges against other cougars. Size of home range varies, depending on how abundant prey animals are and what kind of ambush cover (such as trees or boulders) is available while stalking prey. Cougars in parts of Nevada have some of the smallest home ranges at about 30 square miles, while some Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi) have the largest at 400 square miles, because of the extensive swamps that don’t support many deer. Males usually have larger home ranges that overlap the smaller ranges of several neighboring females.

Size and Color: Adult cougars weigh an average of 140 pounds and are seven feet from nose to tip of tail (tail is almost as long as the body). Color is brown to gray above and whitish below. Black cougars have been reported, especially in South America, since at least the seventeenth century (see image at left margin of 1812 book with a chapter on "The Black Cougar"), but no scientific specimen exists of a black cougar in North America. Young are born with spots that fade during the first year.

Physical Characteristics: Cougars have binocular vision, which is important for depth perception and judging distances. Their eyes allow them to hunt both day and night. They can detect ultrasonic frequencies. The cup-shaped rounded ears can move together or independently in the direction of sound. Cougars make a variety of sounds including chirps, peeps, purrs, growls, moans, whistles and screams, but they can’t roar-- only lions, leopards and jaguars can do that. Cougar screams are legendary – like a baby wailing or a woman being murdered -- but few people have ever heard them in the wild. Many other animals make sounds that might be interpreted as cougar. Visit this site to hear cougar sounds compared with those made by other wildlife - http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/wildlife-sightings/mountain-lions/description-and-signs

Cougars easily follow scent trails because the back of the nasal cavity is densely packed with olfactory cells. The skull is short and rounded with powerful jaws and strong teeth. The heavy bones of the jaw and strong neck and shoulder muscles absorb the shock of biting large prey. Usually they bite on the back of the neck; occasionally the throat. Generally, they drag their prey out of sight and try to cover it with leaves, grass, or twigs.

Cougars prefer deer as prey, but will eat a wide variety of large and small mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and occasionally insects. They generally do not eat carrion, which is why they were not eradicated by the poisoned bait campaigns out West that killed so many other predators, from foxes to bears to eagles.

Cougars can jump 15 feet high and 40 feet wide, climb trees and swim rivers. They have 4 toes on the hind foot and 5 on the front, which is larger than the rear. The fifth toe on the front foot is a dewclaw which is the equivalent of our thumb. It does not touch the ground but is used to grasp prey. The heel pad has 3 lobes. Cougars keep their claws retracted, which helps keep the points extremely sharp, enables the cat to stalk quietly, and usually prevents the claws from registering on tracks.

Cougars have 30 teeth. The canines are large and used for delivering a lethal bite, preferably at the back of the neck. Their other teeth are specialized at slicing & shearing flesh.

In the wild, cougars have been known to live 12 years; in captivity, up to 20 years.

Behavior: Cougars are solitary hunters, taking prey by ambush rather than long pursuits. They stay low to the ground and use whatever cover is around. When they get close enough to their prey, they explode in a sprint of up to 35 miles per hour.

Although cougars are generally solitary except for mothers with young, they communicate through scent in urine and feces deposited in scratched up areas called scrapes. Through scrapes, cougars keep track of each other to maintain a social network based on mutual avoidance. They mate at about 2 years of age, remaining together only for a few days to a week. Mothers have a gestation period of 3 months and raise the litter without help from the males. The young stay with their mother until they are 17 to 23 months old, when they leave in search of their own territories. Females often stay close to their mother’s home range, but males usually travel farther away, sometimes hundreds of miles. Young males are at serious risk of fatal attack from all adult males, including their father.



We welcome additions to this collection.  Send them to spatzcat61@gmail.com

On Ecology…

My real goal is to save large sections of pristine wilderness for all types of wildlife. One way to do that is to make sure that the top predators have enough safe territory to thrive in. Because big cats need so much territory, when you save them, you’re really saving whole ecosystems and you’re saving the other animals down on the food chain. This is what’s called the “apex predator strategy” in conservation.

Alan Rabinowitz, quoted in the New York Times, December 18, 2007.  Dr. Rabinowitz is executive director of science and exploration at the Wildlife Conservation Society.


Left unmolested in their natural habitat they are marvelously efficient predators, at the pinnacle of the food chain which in its totality ensures the overall health of the environment. This is the ecological and scientific rationale behind preservation: the pug mark as a medical certificate for the habitat as a whole.

Jug Suraiya, referring to tigers in India, but the same applies to cougars.  From an article in The Times of India, February 14, 2008

On Recovery…

It's the most amazing big-carnivore comeback story in the history of the world," says biologist Maurice Hornocker. "Lions will hit the Mississippi in the next decade. The East is beautiful cat country—full of deer and cover.

Outside Magazine, May 2003.


The return of the mountain lion, whether as individuals or in sanctioned restoration programs, will be one of the grandest opportunities---and greatest challenges---most wildlife professionals in the Great Plains, Midwest, and the East will ever face.   

Jay Tischendorf,  2007


To reintroduce the panther is to reintroduce a giant fear of the wild, and also a giant wonder.  It is not our duty to ask which is greater.  To have the animal is always greater.

But the landscape the panther first knew is not the present landscape, so unless its ranging acreage is large enough, we have condemned the animal to the fate of living in a zoo.  With Pinhook, we are not trying to create a zoological park, where we can gaze at rare animals up close.  We are trying to create a place that mimics as closely as possible a natural order.  This Pinhook Swamp is a piece of the world we have not stepped too hard on.  It holds black bears yet, and sandhill cranes and bobcats.  Getting panthers back wouldn’t be impossible.  Somewhere in its bosom the land aches for its creatures to be returned.

Janisse Ray, Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land (2005)

On Psychology…

... if we understood them better, we would fear them less; we over-value them, and then fright at them, They fear the lion is painted more fierce than he is; ...

"The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel - 1770


...I explained that by protecting large areas of forest for the use of wide-ranging predators, smaller species that are not as easily studied can be protected as well.  People listen when you talk about saving big cats....Humans show an empathy for these creatures that they often don't extend to many less noticeable species.

From page 6 of Chasing the Dragon's Tail: The Struggle to Save Thailand's Wild Cats by Alan Rabinowitz. 1991.  Doubleday, 242 pp.


When I am hiking in grizzly bear country, ….my adrenaline levels are somewhat higher than when I'm sitting in front of my computer putting together a budget for a grant proposal. I notice everything around me-including every tree I might scamper up should Old Scarface pop up from behind a boulder. This state of mind is different from fear. It is more like the attitude one achieves in Zen meditation: aware, yet calm and unhurried. Breathing comes easily. There is no hint of fatigue and very little distraction. You hold out your hand and it's as steady as the mountain in the distance. Could this be the original harmony with nature that modern humanity has lost?

Knowing that we are not all-powerful, that there are animals around us bigger and meaner than we are, and that how we conduct ourselves is of some consequence is an enlightening experience. It is the kind of experience that would do people in our over civilized society a world of good. Of course, one can be humbled by other phenomena in nature: thunderstorms, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes-not to mention diseases. All teach the receptive observer that we are not entirely in control of our destiny. Nevertheless, something about a potential encounter with a large, hairy, and possibly violent creature really catches our attention. I believe that the feeling of humility one acquires in country inhabited by wild beasts carries over to other contexts. It makes us better persons. It also makes us acutely aware of the emptiness of landscapes that now lack their native megafauna.

Reed Noss, Pages 9-10 in Maehr, D.S, R.F. Noss and J.L. Larkin.  2001.  Large mammal restoration: ecological and sociological challenges in the 21st century.  Island Press, Washington, DC, USA


Wild wolves, not made-by-humans wolves, wild grizzlies, wolverines, cougars, great spotted cats, large primates, and all their dependents should be the goal of all large “protected” areas wherever these species are found and, in supportive ways, their surrounding lands.  Having such places is a matter of humility.

Page 269 of John B. Theberge with Mary T. Theberge.  Wolf Country: Eleven Years Tracking the Algonquin Wolves.  McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto


Humanistic Perspectives…

Controls we may need, what is called game-management we may need, for we have engrossed the earth and must now play God to the other species. But deliberate war on any species, especially species of such evolved beauty and precise function diminishes, endangers, and brutalizes us.  If we cannot live in harmony with other forms of life, if
we cannot control our hostility toward the earth and its creature, how shall we ever learn to control our hostility toward each other?

Wallace Stegner (in McCall and Dutcher 1992)
Cougar: Ghost of the Rockies


I cannot and do not pretend to speak for those few whose lives still carry the daily prospect of disaster at the jaws of professional killers. I cannot speak with the entitlement earned by the Tanzanian farm who dutifully sleeps among lions, or muster the authority of the Sundarban woodsman who goes to work wearing only faith and a facemask to shield him from tigers. I have only to convey what those of science have found, of the fool's experiment unfolding, and the impending impoverishment of life in the void of great predators. All I can personally but crudely attest is that there is something fundamentally different about a land roamed by big meat-eating beasts, a sense that becomes forcefully apparent in a solitary walk through their realm. And I can only believe, from somewhere deeper than any logic center of the brain, that a life of incomprehensible loneliness awaits a world where the wild things were, but are never to be again.

Page 217-218 in WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE by William Stolzenburg (2008)


The data clearly shows cats are living among us, though we rarely see them. Just because one is spotted in a neighborhood doesn't make it a threat, our research clearly reveals cougars and humans share the same habitats at times. If the environment can support a mountain lion, it indicates a healthy, vibrant ecosystem. The more we learn, the more we realize mountain lions are also our protectors of the natural world.

Rocky Spencer, Project CAT (Cougars and Teaching) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. circa 2007


There is something truly magical about the cougar . . .

Let's think of the magnificent animals that have been eliminated [in Oregon] because of our fear of anything with teeth and claws: Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, Lynx, Wolves (though they are reportedly soon to be back), and probably a half-dozen more that don't immediately come to mind. All of these creatures were once pretty common here, but predator hysteria and "livestock protection" (money) hounded them right out of the state.

It's something that should shame us.

In over 40 years of wandering Oregon's woods I've seen a single Cougar; and it's one of those brief, rare moments that will be etched in my memory forever. I wouldn't have traded that 5 minute staredown for thousands of dollars. Even as I watched, it simply "evaporated" into thin air. It didn't run. It didn't jump. It didn't slink away. It evaporated.

There is something truly magical about the Cougar; and about the others...the ones that were eliminated. They deserve to be here, and we deserve to have the chance to see them. So do our kids; and theirs.

Sure. Hunt Cougars. But hunt them in a way that gives them a sporting chance. The present law, without ODFW manipulation is adequate.

A response to "A hunter's view of cougar management" by Lori Cooper in the OregonLive.com

Posted by orydude





In early June of 2011, numerous reports of cougar sightings circulated in Greenwich, Connecticut.  A fuzzy photograph of an apparent cougar seen from the rear was published by the local media.  People responded by closing down a school, relocating a jogging match, cancelling a swimming meet, and closing a nearby natural area.  Five days after the cat was captured on camera, it was hit by a SUV 35 miles away—the end of an amazing journey that started in the Black Hills of western South Dakota.  More than two months later, the same atmosphere of fear was still prevalent, aided and abetted by the media. 

If the same fear permeated communities in the West where cougars survive, people would cower in their homes.  But instead, public opinion surveys show that a majority of people want to co-exist with cougars in their states.

Mountain lions are dangerous mainly on Hollywood screens.  When an attack does occur news media sensationalize it.  Fear sells. The real danger is "Source Amnesia". This happens when people are repeatedly told something.  They begin to believe it is true even if it is a deliberate lie. It is repeated as truth without remembering the source.1

Cougars are shy and generally avoid humans.  For most outdoor people in the West, seeing a wild cougar—not treed, dead or tranquilized—is a once in a lifetime experience.  Tim Dunbar, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, says “I constantly hear California Department of Fish and Game personnel talk about how despite decades of working in wilderness areas of the state they have never seen a lion.”  Cougars do occasionally follow people, apparently out of curiosity.  There are simple ways to avoid or to mitigate threats from cougars.  Residents in the new housing developments rapidly being built in cougar habitat out West, for example, are advised not to feed pets outdoors, never to feed deer, and avoid landscaping designs that provide cover.

What is the risk of being killed by a cougar?  Since 1890, as of August 2011, in all of the United States and Canada, 22 people have been killed by cougars.2  The last fatal attack was in 2008.  Between 1991 and 2003 ten deaths from cougar attacks were documented in the two countries.   In other words, 0.77 people died each year.

Tom Chester defines an attack as “one that involves physical contact by mountain lions on people. This does not include an encounter, where a mountain lion may threaten a person, but does not result in physical contact. Nor does it include a sighting, which usually involves no threatening action by the cougar.”3  Depredation on livestock and pets and predation on wildlife are not attacks.

It would be difficult to find any cause of accidental death less likely to occur.  Many more people are killed each year by lightning.  About 22 people are killed by dogs annually.  Somehow, we tend not to worry about more likely dangers, such as the 40,000 people who die in traffic accidents in the US alone each year. 

To further put the danger of a cougar attack in perspective, fifteen people won multi-million dollar lotteries in 2009 from Powerball and mega millions alone.  This means you will win a $multi-million lottery 19 times before a mountain lion kills you.

About 150 people are killed in auto accidents involving deer every year.4  This means that you have already died 195 times in an auto accident involving a deer before a cougar kills you and ten times before you win one of the lotteries.

Many more people are attacked by cougars and survive.  Humans aren’t shaped like their normal prey, so cougars have difficulty killing people when they do attack.  It is hard to get an accurate figure of nonfatal attacks because some probably are not be reported, and a few are hoaxes.  Apparently there have been fewer cougar attacks in the last few years.  As of September 1st, we have learned of only two nonfatal attacks in the US and Canada in 2011.

Cougars and Joggers:  Two joggers have been killed since 1890.  On April 23, 1994, Barbara Barsalou Schoner, age 40, was killed while jogging on the American River Canyon Trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area in northern California.

Eighteen-year-old Scott Lancaster was killed on January 14, 1991 while running on a hill above Clear Creek High School in Idaho Springs, Colorado.  In his book, The Beast in the Garden, David Baron implies that the death occurred because cougars in Boulder, Colorado, had become habituated to people.  Wendy Keefover-Ring pointed out that Idaho Springs is more than 20 miles from Boulder, separated by rugged terrain.  The fatal attack probably had nothing to do with habituated cougars in Boulder.5

Cougars and Children:  Children are small, often low on the ground, active and noisy.  They are indeed attractive to cougars.  Eleven of the 22 people killed since 1890 were children aged 13 or younger.  Both of the attacks in 2011 were on young children.  Small children need to be carefully watched in cougar country.  Because they are vulnerable and may run unexpectedly, adults should pick them up if a cougar is encountered.  Children need to be watched and protected no matter where they are.

Cougar Danger in California:  California is often cited as a terrible example of what happens when cougars are not hunted by sportsmen.  Attacks have been hyped by hunting organizations because in November 1990, California citizens voted for Proposition 117.  Proposition 117 reclassified the mountain lion in California as a "specially protected mammal," permanently banning the sport hunting of cougars in the state.  In 1996, cougar-hunting proponents got the state legislature to place Proposition 197 on the March primary ballot. It would have overturned the ban on sport hunting cougars.  It was rejected by 58 percent of the voters.6

The decision to exempt cougars from sport hunting was made by all interested citizens in California, not by the California Department of Fish and Game, which is supported by hunters’ license fees and excise taxes.  It was perhaps the first and only time that all citizens of a state had a say in the management of a game animal.  Hunting organizations have not fully recovered from their defeat.  They would like to have facts to support their claim that sport hunting reduces livestock depredation and attacks on humans, but in fact, despite its huge human population, abundant public land, and climate favorable for outdoor activities, California ranks low in the number of  cougar incidents.7  Today, cougars that are preying on livestock or deemed a threat to human safety are killed.  Others die on highways and are poached, as is the case everywhere they exist.


What To Do if You Encounter a Cougar: Feel Blessed

Assessing the Risk of a Cougar Attack:  Most cougar sightings are not threatening to human safety.  Instead, you should feel blessed that you’ve seen one.  The Cougar Management Guidelines Working Group has provided a guide to the risk of an attack.4  (We have added the risk of attack by a cougar in a tree, which was not addressed.)

Low Risk:  Cougar opportunistically viewed at a distance; cougar runs away or hides; cougar not paying attention to person or its movements are not directed toward the person; cougar in a tree, often with barking dog(s) below.

Low Risk—Provided Human Response is Appropriate:  Various body positions, ears up; may be shifting positions; intent attention; following behavior.  Cougar is curious.

Moderate Risk:  Intense staring; following and hiding behavior.  Cougar is assessing success of an attack.

Moderate Risk, depending on distance to animal:  Hissing, snarling, vocalization.  Cougar is displaying defensive behavior.  Attack may be imminent.

High Risk:  Crouching, tail twitching, intense staring; ears flattened like wings; body low to ground; head may be up.  Pre-attack.

Very High and Immediate Risk:  Ears flat, fur out; tail twitching; body and head low to ground; rear legs “pumping.”   Attack imminent.

What To Do if You are at Risk of a Cougar Attack:

1. Don’t run away – running triggers the cougar’s predation instinct.
2. Stand tall – open your arms to make yourself big.  Speak loudly but calmly.  Keep eye contact.  Back away slowly, taking care not to trip.  Keep children close to you. Pick up small children.
3. Fight back – if attacked, use sticks, stones, or fists.  Cougars can be driven away by resistance.

1Wang, Sam, and Sandra Aamodt.  Your brain lies to you.  New York Times, June 27, 2008.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/27/opinion/27aamodt.html?_r=2&em&ex=1214798400&en=55e3196d3a7018e0&ei=5087%0A&oref=slogin
2For a list of fatal cougar attacks since 1870, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_cougar_attacks_in_North_America

3Chester, Tom.  Mountain lion attacks on people in the U.S. and Canada.  Last updated in 2003.  http://tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks.html  Chester’s website includes a thoughtful analysis of attacks, focused on California. 
4Cougar Management Guidelines Working Group.  2005.  Cougar Management Guidelines, First Edition, p 89.  Opal Creek Press, LLC, Salem, Oregon.  137 pp.
5Ring, Wendy J. Keefover-Ring.  2005.  Mountain lions, myths and media: A critical reevaluation of the Beast in the Garden, with response by David Baron.  Environmental Law 35: 1083-1106 http://www.easterncougar.org/pdfs/Beast_in_the%20Garden_Review.pdf

6Mountain Lion Foundation.  Mountain lions in California.  http://www.mountainlion.org/States/_state_California.asp
7California Department of Fish and Game.  Verified Mountain Lion Attacks on Humans in California (1890 through 2007)  [We are not aware of any verified attacks since 2007.]  http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/lion/attacks.html

Other References:

Papouchis, Christopher J.  2006.  Effects of Sport Hunting Mountain Lions on Safety and Livestock.  http://www.mountainlion.org/sport_hunting.asp
Cougar Info http://www.cougarinfo.org/  The material in this website needs to be read with caution.  Some of the alleged attacks have not been verified.  Many cougar encounters are described--an attack might have occurred but did not.  Recently, it appears that people are reading and remembering instructions on how to behave in the presence of a cougar that may have predatory intent.  But they, and in some instances, the cougar are surviving. 
CMorris, Eric.  Deer Car Accidents.  http://ezinearticles.com/?Deer-Car-Accidents&id=302157
3California Department of Fish and Game.  Verified Mountain Lion Attacks on Humans in California (1890 through 2007)  [We are not aware of any verified attacks since 2007.]  http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/lion/attacks.html


Advice from California’s State Mountain Lion Coordinator

An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 cougars (mountain lions) share California with almost 38,000,000 human beings.  The human population continues to grow and expand into cougar habitat.  California’s climate is conducive to outdoor recreation, and Californians spend millions of days outdoors in cougar habitat.  But in the last ten years, there have been only two fatal and two nonfatal attacks on humans (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/lion/attacks.html ).  Almost any other risk of death is greater, including being hit by lightning or being killed by dogs.

The deaths of a young male cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota, shot by law enforcement officers in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on October 7, 2008 while it was lounging in a back yard, and another young male that was shot after an abbreviated tranquilizing attempt in Bossier City, Louisiana, on November 30, 2008, led us to ask Doug Updike of the California Department of Fish and Game what their personnel do when a cougar shows up in a residential area.  The following is derived from a telephone conversation on December 4, 2008:

Updike said that generally the DFG will tranquilize an out-of-place bear or cougar and take it back into wild habitat, if the animal has no history of causing a public safety threat or a being a depredation animal.  These animals are generally no threat to public safety. 

Responding public officers--"First Responders" as he called them--have the authority to act as they see fit to protect public safety, even if a wildlife officer might not agree with that action.  He had viewed the video recording the death of the cougar in Bossier City and said that a similar situation had occurred in Palo Alto, CA in recent years.  Peace officers reached a treed cougar first.  Because an elementary school was about to be letting students out nearby, they decided it should be killed to protect the public.  (Police officers must err on the side of public safety.)  If a wildlife officer had been there, s/he might have recommended a different course of action.  They could have pulled people back and given the cougar an avenue of escape.  But the decision of peace officers has precedent over other decisions.

I asked what he would have done if he'd been in Bossier City and had been in charge of the situation.  He said he would have pulled everybody back a few blocks, giving the cougar space to come out of the tree and run back into the woods.  This approach would be especially important in Louisiana, where cougars are listed as endangered and protected by both state and federal law.

I asked him for his recommendations for the Eastern Cougar Foundation.  He said:

(1)  Wildlife agencies respond to the public.  The public is their biggest challenge.  In California public attitudes toward mountain lions have changed dramatically from the 1950s, when they were still being killed for bounties.  The DFG now puts out a consistent message, emphasizing that the risk of being attacked is exceedingly small and that mountain lions are an incredible resource.  Police officers and the public need to better understand the behaviors of cougars. In general, cougars tree because they are afraid.  They will wait for the opportunity to come down from the tree and run away.

Legislators reflect public opinion.  Generally they will provide what the base of the public wants.

The ECF needs to tell the public again and again and again that the risk of attack by cougars is exceedingly small, emphasizing what incredible animals they are.  He didn't see why we couldn't get cougars reintroduced to the East..

(2)  Educate police officers.  The DGF is working on a training DVD for law enforcement officers and first responders on how to handle cougar situations, consistent with the Department’s policy.  It will be completed within the next 6 months.  They plan to issue thousands of them to law enforcement officers through California.
Earlier this year Updike went to Florida and spoke with panther groups because some goats have been killed by panthers.  He was surprised that owners of little hobby livestock farms tucked into remote places have lower property taxes, promoting many alternative food sources for panthers.  The main concern of the groups was the possibility that a panther might attack a human.  Updike told them that the likelihood of that happening was extremely small.


The California Department of Fish and Game has set up a new website on co-existing with large wild animals, such as black bears, cougars, coyotes, deer, wild turkeys, and wild pigs. (Note that not all states have open season on wild pigs/boars.) There is also a section on wildlife-resistant products. Worth a look.


Kills made by dogs or coyotes are frequently blamed on cougars.  Dogs, by far the largest harasser of livestock, usually injure the hindquarters.  Coyotes inflict many bites around the throat, flank and back.  Cougar sign includes a bite to the back of the neck (occasionally the throat), large canine punctures, claw marks along the shoulders, and (often but not always) drag marks and an attempt to cover the carcass.  Proper livestock management methods, such as bringing animals in to safe areas during birthing or using guard dogs in pastures, can greatly reduce losses.


Attacks by cougars on horses, while documented, usually involve foals and are uncommon even where both the cats and horses are abundant and spatially close, such as in many areas of the West.   It is interesting that despite this fact, in areas where the cats are exceedingly rare, such as midwestern or eastern North America, cougars are often blamed for injuries or fatalities to horses.  This includes many reports of purported attacks on adult horses.  

The Cougar Rewilding Foundation and other carnivore experts maintain that across the full range of the cougar most purported horse attacks by the cat involve injuries sustained by the horse in circumstances other than an actual depredation attempt by any predator (ie barbed wire or fence post-caused injuries).  And when predator attack was involved, the most likely culprits are usually feral dogs, coyotes, or juvenile delinquents, and then possibly wolves or bears as opposed to cougars. 

In the event of an actual cougar attack on a horse, as is true for attacks on other prey, the cougar will typically try to direct its attack toward the animal’s head.  Corroborating evidence may thus include bite or claw marks to the shoulders and withers (where the neck joins the back), head or face.  Marks in these areas from cougar canines (i.e. the two “fangs”) will typically measure 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inches between the 2 punctures for a female cougar and roughly up to 2 inches or perhaps slightly greater for a male.  Absence of such supportive evidence, or injuries predominantly to the flanks, lower extremities, or rear of the animal, suggest other causes for horse injury.

Those with horses who are concerned about the possibility of predator attack are encouraged to:
1.  Don’t leave horses or other livestock unattended.
2.  install and maintain electric fencing
3.  Maintain a clear, 3-5 foot wide swath of trackable dirt or soil (ie a “track trap”) around their horse corral to allow for ID of any animals that are frequenting the site.  
4.  Employ trail cameras to document presence of wildlife or feral animals around the corral. 

The following may provide further information:

Acorn and Dorrance.   1980.  Methods of investigating predation of livestock.  Alberta Agricultural Protection Branch.  Edmonton.

Anonymous. 2004. http://billingsgazette.com/news/local/image_38d25e79-bd20-50c1-a2d4-fd0ee1d92846.html

Turner and Morrison.  2001.  Influence of predation by mountain lions on numbers and survivorship of a feral horse population.  Southwestern Naturalist 46:183-190.

Wade and Bowns.  Procedures for evaluating predation on livestock.  http://texnat.tamu.edu/about/procedures-for-evaluating/

Waller. 2007.  Drought:  Wild predators frequenting urban areas.  TheHorse.com.   Article 10430.




Hoaxes far outnumber legitimate confirmations of cougars in the East.  Most of them are legitimate photos that have been mislabeled as to when and where they were really taken.  Here are some of the most commonly used photos with the actual state where the cougar was killed and/or photographed.  Go to snopes.com for more information on some of these pictures.

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Helen McGinnis has rewritten and reorganized our bibliography. It now deserves a page of it's own.

Last Update Tuesday March 29, 2016

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