Mountain lions, also called cougars and pumas, are the largest wildcat in North America.
They are two to three feet tall at the shoulders, three to five feet in length, and weight 100 to 200 pounds. (Females weigh slightly less than males.) Mountain lions live about 12 years in the wild or up to 25 years in captivity.
There are an estimated 30,000 mountain lions in the western United States. Historically, they have a large habitat range and can live throughout North America, with the exception of northern Canada. However, habitat loss and hunting has led to a decrease in habitat range. South Dakota is home to an estimated population of over 200 mountain lions. They feed on elk and other deer species, mountain goat, sheep, bighorn, coyote, pronghorn, and livestock.
Mountain lions from the Black Hills have, on occasion, wandered to faraway states in the east.
David Baron, in his article The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can, states “the 140-pound cougar that was spotted last month among the estates of Greenwich — and was later struck and killed on the Wilbur Cross Parkway — has been the talk of southern Connecticut. New England, along with most of the Eastern United States, hasn’t been cougar country since the 19th century, when the animals were exterminated by a killing campaign that started in colonial times. So where had this cougar come from?
“Now we know the answer, and it couldn’t be more astonishing. Wildlife officials, who at first assumed the cat was a captive animal that had escaped its owners, examined its DNA and concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota. It had wandered at least 1,500 miles before meeting its end at the front of an S.U.V. in Connecticut. That is one impressive walkabout.”
Later in the article, he mentions that in 2008 another mountain lion from the Black Hills was found within the city-limits of Chicago, where it was shot by police.
Generally, mountain lions are solitary, nocturnal, and avoid humans, so seeing a mountain lion is unlikely.
However, if you do encounter a mountain lion in the wild, stop and don’t run. Running may stimulate its instinct to chase. Stand upright, appear larger by raising your arms, and make loud noises. If the lion is aggressive, throw stones or branches at it – anything you can reach without crouching or turning your back. If it attacks, fighting back will drive it away.
- Mountain lions don’t roar, but female have a loud scream-like sound.
- They have a poor sense of smell, but make up for it with excellent vision and hearing.
- Mountain lions are very solitary. They generally only encounter others when mating and only live in groups when it is a mother raising her young.
- They can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40 feet.