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Mountain Lion

Population and distribution

Pumas have one of the largest ranges of any wild cat, holding competition with only the Eurasian Lynx, Wild Cat and greatly spread Leopard. Before the modern human population explosion in the Americas, the puma ranged across most of the Americas. Even now, it has the widest range of any New World land animal, spanning 110 degrees of latitude, from the northern Yukon Territory (in Canada) to the southern Andes (on both the Chilean and Argentinian sides). They have also been sighted recently in Northern Connecticut and other parts of New England. One of the only locations where the puma is in great danger is within the United States, mainly Florida and other parts of the East Coast. This is mostly due to human infringement, clashing with cities and other urban "advancements" or because of the loss of territories that urbanization brings. When pumas are found and relocated to more "wild" parts of the state, they are put into competition with already existing cats.

Puma populations of the United States and Canada

Hunted almost to extinction in the United States and eastern Canada, the puma has made a dramatic comeback, with an estimated 30,000 individuals in the western United States. In Canada, pumas are found west of the prairies, in Alberta, British Columbia and the southern Yukon. The are also found in the Canadian Shield regions of Ontario and Manitoba. The densest concentration of pumas in North America is found on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Pumas are gradually extending their range to the east, following creeks and riverbeds, and have reached Missouri, Michigan and throughout Kansas including the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. Pumas have been seen along the northern shore of Lake Superior with an attack on a horse in Ely, Minnesota in 2004. It is anticipated that they will soon expand their range over the entire eastern and southern United States. There are continuing reports of the survival of a remnant population of the Eastern Cougar in New Brunswick, Ontario and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec.

Due to urbanization in the urban-wildland interface, pumas often come into contact with people, especially in areas with a large population of deer, their natural prey. They have also begun preying on pets, such as dogs and cats, and livestock, but have rarely turned to people as a source of food.

There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 pumas in California (est. circa 1990) and an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 in Colorado.

Physical characteristics

Pumas are tawny-colored with black-tipped ears and tail. In northern regions, the puma's coat is thicker and has a bluish-grey coloring. The puma can run as fast as 70 km/h (43.5 mph), jump 6 m (20 ft) from a standing position, vertically leap 2.5 m (8 ft). They have been seen to jump horizontally 12m (40 ft) and vertically nearly 5m (16 ft). One puma was observed jumping 3.6m (12 ft) up into a tree while still holding a deer in its jaws. Their bite strength is more powerful than that of any domestic dog. Puma claws are retractable and they have four toes. They are slightly larger than leopards but smaller and less robust than the jaguar. Adult males may be more than eight feet (2.4 m) long (nose to tail), and have an average mass of about 60-70 kg (weigh approx 150 lb). Some may reach over 100kg. One in particular which was shot in Arizona weighed 125kg (275 lb) after it had its intestines removed. Females are much smaller and an adult can be 2 m (7 ft) long and have a mass of about 35 kg (weigh approx 75 lb). Puma kittens have brownish-blackish spots and rings on their tails. Their life span is about a decade in the wild and 25 years or more in captivity.

Pumas that live closest to the equator are the smallest, and increase in size in populations closer to the poles.

Behavior

Pumas can kill and drag prey about 7 times their own weight. They normally hunt large mammals, such as deer and elk, but will eat small animals, such as beavers, porcupines or even mice, if the need arises. They hunt alone and ambush their prey, often from behind. They usually kill with a bite at the base of the skull to break the neck of their target. The carcass of the kill is usually then buried or partially covered to protect it for several days, while the puma continues to roam and comes back for nourishment as needed. Pumas do not enjoy being scavengers, however, and will generally hunt for their own food and not eat from a carcass. Pumas will catch and kill their prey 98% of the time, so perhaps they can afford to be a bit choosey. Like other cats, they will also move to certain areas for feeding. Adult males tend to claim a 250 km² (100 square miles) stretch for their territory; adult females take 50 to 150 km² (20 to 60 square miles) on average; however their ranges can vary from as much as 1,000 km² (370 square miles) to as little as 25 km² (10 square miles).

Pumas are extremely territorial. They will mostly avoid fighting and usually ward off others with urine markings, but they do sometimes compete aggressively for territory, especially among the males. Pumas have been known to kill others in territorial disputes, and mortality from fighting can contribute significantly to the mortality rate as compared to other cats (an exception is the male lion), especially pumas that live in harsher environments such as areas around Alberta and New Mexico where death from territorial disputes can rise to 70% of all natural causes of puma deaths. Adult black bears may be able to kill pumas and steal their kills but generally conflict between the two predators does not occur. Despite being fearsome when it comes to territorial disputes with other pumas, they are mostly shy and reclusive, and tend to avoid humans.

A male may breed with several females. Female pumas usually have 3 or 4 kittens in a den in a rocky location. If a male puma invades the territory of another male, he may kill the kittens of resident females so that they will become receptive to mating.

Attacks on humans

Attacks on humans are rare, but do occur — especially as humans encroach on wildlands and impact the availability of the puma's traditional prey. There were around 100 puma attacks on humans in the USA and Canada during the period from 1890 to January 2004, with 16 fatalities; figures for California were 14 attacks and 6 fatalities. Attacks by puma on humans and pets are associated with urban areas situated in the wildland urban intermix such as the Boulder, Colorado area which have encouraged the traditional prey of the puma, the mule deer, to habituate to urban areas and the presence of people and pets. Pumas in such circumstances may come to lose their fear of both people and dogs and come to see them as prey.

On January 8, 2004 a puma killed and partly ate a mountain biker in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County, California; what is assumed to be the same animal attacked another mountain biker in the park the following day, but was fought off by other bikers. A young male puma was shot nearby by rangers later in the day.

Pumas cannot be hunted in California except under very specific circumstances. This, as well as the extinction in California of the wolf and brown bear, has allowed the puma to greatly increase its numbers. California law requires that wild animals who have attacked a human must be killed if they can be located.

Puma safety tips

Carry a firearm and be prepared to use it if charged at by a puma. Although, the noise from firing a warning shot should in most cases be enough to scare off a puma.

Do not hike alone; go in groups with adults supervising children. When hiking, appropriate clothing for rough terrain will aid in movement and evasion.

If confronted by a puma, do not run; that might stimulate its instinct to chase, and they can quickly outrun any person. Instead, stand and face the animal, making eye contact.

Don't "play dead." Pumas are likely to eat a human who plays dead. This behavior is similar to Black bears, but unlike Grizzly bears.

Pick up young children without bending or turning from the puma (if possible). (Comment: When under an attack by a dog, experts recommend NOT picking up a child; because that act may be interpreted as you attacking. And that would encourage the dog(s) to join in the supposed attack. Instead place yourself between the animal and the child. Whether or not this applies to cougars is open.)

Do everything possible to appear larger or intimidating, including raising arms wildly, opening up jacket, and throwing stones and branches.

Do not crouch down or bend over; this may create the appearance of an ordinary quadruped prey rather than a typically non-prey biped.

Fight back if attacked. Pumas have been repelled with rocks, sticks, garden tools, kicks, and bare hands; a well placed kick to the face has been known to work.

The best place to hit a puma is on the nose.

Remove dense and low-lying vegetation that provide good hiding places for pumas.

Install motion-sensitive outdoor lighting.

Keep pets from roaming and never feed pets outside. Be wary when leaving pets outside, particularly at dawn and dusk.

Do not climb a tree as pumas can climb just as well as (if not much better than) humans.

Jogging, running, and biking on wildland trails can be particularly hazardous since such runners are likely to be less attentive to the surroundings and the motion can trigger a "chase and kill" reflex in the animal. Talk to local authorities or park rangers to see if it is advisable before taking such a risk.

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