A cougar looks at a photographer from a tree

This cougar was photographed by researchers under controlled research conditions.

Courtesy Kerry Murphy


The cougar (Puma concolor), also known as mountain lion, is the one of the largest cats in North America and a top predator native to Greater Yellowstone. (The jaguar, which occurs in New Mexico and Arizona, is larger.) As part of predator removal campaigns in the early 1900s, cougars and wolves were killed throughout the lower 48 states, including national parks. Wolves (Canis lupus) were eradicated and, although cougars were probably eliminated from Yellowstone, the species survived in the West because of its cryptic nature and preference for rocky, rugged territory where the cats are difficult to track. Eventually the survivors re-established themselves in Yellowstone, possibly making their way from wilderness areas in central Idaho. Learn More: Cougar Population and Behavior...


Quick Facts

Number in Yellowstone

26–42 (across all age classes) on the northern range; others in park seasonally.

Where to See

Seldom seen

Behavior and Size

  • Litters range from 2–3 kittens; 50% survive first year.
  • Adult males weigh 145–170 pounds; females weigh 85–120 pounds; length, including tail, 6.5–7.5 feet.
  • Average life span: males, 8–10 years; females, 12–14 years. Cougars living in areas where they are hunted have much shorter average life spans.
  • Preferred terrain: rocky breaks and forested areas that provide cover for hunting prey and for escape from competitors such as wolves and bears.
  • Prey primarily on elk and mule deer, plus marmots and other small mammals.
  • Bears and wolves frequently displace cougars from their kills.
  • Male cougars may kill other male cougars within their territory.
  • Adult cougars and kittens have been killed by wolves.

Interaction with Humans

Very few documented confrontations between cougars and humans have occurred in Yellowstone.

If a big cat is close by: Stay in a group; carry small children; make noise. Do not run, do not bend down to pick up sticks. Act dominant—stare in the cat’s eyes and show your teeth while making noise.


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