Griff50The cougar, or mountain lion, is North America’s largest wild cat. An adult male cougar weighs between 63 and 90 kg, and a female between 40 and 50 kg.¬†Cougar are solitary, except for mothers with young. Their prey species include deer, wild sheep, elk, rabbits, birds and other small animals.

Most active at dusk and dawn, cougar can roam and hunt throughout the day or night in all seasons. They have ranges up to 300 sq km and may roam up to 80 km in a single day.

During late spring and summer, one to two year old cougar become independent of their mothers. While attempting to find a home range, these young cats often roam widely in search of an unoccupied territory. This is when they are most likely to come into contact with people.

Signs of Cougar Presence

cougar tracksAlthough your chances of seeing one of these elusive cats is slim, you need to be aware of their existence when in cougar country. Cougar mark their territory along trails, under trees, or on the edge of a ridge. They use mounds of scraped and scratched earth, pine needles and other forest litter, soaked with urine and feces. The feces are usually large, partially covered and contain hair and bone fragments.

Cougar tracks look like those of a house cat, but are the size of a baseball. The tracks have four toes with three distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Claws usually do not leave imprints. The front paw is always larger than the back paw mark.

Cougar are predators at the top of the food chain, and their actions are often unpredictable. Following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict.

If you meet a cougar DO NOT RUN. Back away slowly, always looking them in the eye. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.

Never turn your back on a cougar – face the cat and remain upright

Do all you can to make yourself look bigger. Hold a coat, branch or any other object over your head, or wave it around. Don’t crouch down or try to hide

Yell, throw rocks, speak loudly and firmly. Convince the cougar that you are a threat, not prey

Always give the cougar an avenue of escape

If the cat attacks FIGHT BACK. Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything they have, including rocks, sticks, fists, fishing poles, cameras, skateboards etc

Hiking in Cougar Country

  • Hike in groups of two or more, and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar
  • Be extremely alert when biking in cougar country – a human on a bike looks like a deer running to a big cat. You can’t hear anything coming if you are wearing ear buds with music playing
  • Carry a sturdy walking stick and pepper spray to be used as a weapon if necessary
  • Keep children close and under control
  • Watch for cougar tracks and signs
  • Check with the local park office about wildlife sightings before your trip
  • If you stumble upon cougar kittens, leave the area immediately as the female will defend her young

Hiking with Children

  • Cougar seem to be attracted to children, due to their high pitched voices, small size and erratic movements which are all similar to small prey animals.
  • Talk to children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar. Encourage them to play in groups, and always supervise children playing outdoors in cougar country
  • A dog is an effective early warning system, as they see, smell and hear a cougar sooner than people
  • Pick children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may trigger an attack

Living in Cougar Country

Do not attract wildlife to your yard, especially deer, who will clean up under bird feeders
Never leave pet food outside, feed your pets indoors, and always bring your pets in at night
Place domestic livestock in an enclosed shed or barn at night

Read more about these magnificent cats on our Cougar fact sheet.

2 Responses

  1. Jeff

    I live in the state of Michigan In the very small town of Dansville. In the month of April 2013 I went out with our dog, a French Mastiff. Our home is on a long narrow lot. As the dog was doing her business I noticed what I thought was a large dog at the far end of the property. I began to walk toward the animal it turned to give a profile view. This allowed me to see the tail. This appendage was about as long as the rest of the body and was in constant movement. The dog came and stood touching me. Her body was quivering as she watched the cat advanced. The cat stopped about ten foot from us. The cat appeared to be slightly larger than the dog. The dog weighed about 110 lbs.
    The cat was mostly tan in color. The face had symmetric markings centered around the eyes. We stared at each other for about 20 seconds; the cat looked first at me then at the dog then back at me. The cat then took a step back and walked slowly away. The dog and I stood still until the cat merged into the undergrowth and disappeared from view. We then walked back to the house. Pictures I have seen, of a cougar, appear to be a match except for the facial markings. A question for me is the facial marking associated with a sub-group?

    • Pat Bumstead

      There are actually no sub-groups in the North American cougar population as they are all exactly the same. There can be variations in facial markings though, especially in juvenile cougars. You’re very lucky you have a French Mastiff and not a French Poodle or your story might have been vastly different!

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