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Cougars inhabit the huge swaths of land across the Western Hemisphere, the most of any land mammal native to the region. They are largely habitat generalists, able to survive in a wide range of different environments, from the southern tip of Chile to Canada, from high altitude forests to lowland deserts and most varieties in between.
Cougars are solitary animals, with the exception of mating which occurs throughout the year. Cubs will stay with their mother until they are old enough to fend for themselves, usually around two years old. A mother and her cubs bond through tactile interactions and a cub will use whistle-like vocalizations to call to its mother. Cougars are nocturnal, but also seen often during the twilight hours.
Cougars have a life expectancy of 18 to 20 years both in the wild and in captivity, though those in captivity may live slightly longer.
Cougars are carnivorous and prefer medium-sized prey such as deer and elk, which make up the vast majority of their diet. When unavailable, the cougar will seek smaller animals such as rabbits, sheep, feral pigs and a variety of other creatures. Cougars stalk and ambush their prey, especially larger animals, jumping onto their backs in order to break the animal’s neck by biting it at the top of its neck. They hide their kills and return to eat over a period of several days.
The cougars of the western United States number around 30,000. Though there are some populations, such as the Florida panther, that have been decreased catastrophically, the IUCN status of the cougar is that of Least Concern.
The cougar goes by a variety of different names, including the puma, mountain lion and panther. Unlike other big cats, they are not able to roar, but use different types of vocalizations to communicate. They mark their territory with their claws, leaving scratch marks to indicate its boundaries.
Why are they Endangered?
The main threats to cougars are habitat loss and fragmentation, retaliatory killing by farmers and diminishing numbers of their prey. They are sometimes killed out of fear when encountered in the wild, as they can be dangerous to humans. Cougars are often hit by cars, especially the Florida panther population, especially as roads can act as a barrier to movement.