Also known as pumas, panthers, catamounts, mountain lions and American lions, cougars have existed on the North American continent for over 10,000 years. They can currently be found as far south as the Chilean Patagonia and as far north as the Yukon Territory in Canada. Apart from a small population in Florida, they are no longer found east of the Rocky Mountains due to habitat alteration and direct persecution.
From the 1800s until well into the mid and late 1900s cougars, as well as wolves and grizzly bears, were targeted for extermination because they were viewed as threats to domestic livestock, people, and game species valued by hunters. Bounties were offered in most states, including Washington and Idaho, to encourage private citizens to participate in the eradication.
Despite these efforts, the adaptable and secretive cougar managed to survive in the rugged and remote mountainous areas of the West, even as wolves and grizzly bears were virtually eliminated from the region by the early 1900s.
Currently, viable populations of cougars can be found in the 13 western U.S. states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Texas, Wyoming and Washington. In 2015, Biologists estimated the total cougar population in Washington State from habitat and population density data to be approximately 2,000 adults. Florida is home to a small, genetically distinct population of cougars, commonly referred to as Florida panthers, which are classified as an endangered species under Federal law.
North Dakota has a small population of cougars, and an increasing number of sightings in the Great Plains states in recent years suggest that western cougars may be starting to disperse farther east. The genetic bloodline of eastern cougars, however, was declared extinct by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in early 2011.
Human communities are expanding into cougar habitat at a rapid rate, so it is critical that people learn how to safely coexist with these powerful and secretive cats.
Western Wildlife Outreach provides information on:
- cougar biology and behavior,
- the legal status and management of cougars,
- what to do if you encounter a cougar in the wild, and
- other resources for learning about cougars.
If your group would like a presentation on cougars, please contact us.