Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE MOUNTAIN LION is often called cougar, puma, panther, painter, and catamount, according to locality. Adults usually have a rather uniform tawny or grayish body color without spots. However, the young kittens are coarsely and sharply spotted with dark brown, almost black, spots over most of their bodies. These juvenile spots usually disappear by the time the young reach an age of 6 months, but some kittens retain their spotted coat until they are nearly a year old. Both adult and young mountain lions have long tails. Young kittens have their tails crossed by several black bands. In the adults the tails are not banded, but have a distinct dark brown terminal tip.

There are two color phases in mountain lions. Some adults have a tawny or reddish color, while others are of the gray phase. However, unlike summer and winter coats of deer, the color phases of mountain lions do not change markedly with the season. A "red" individual is red throughout its life. Average adult mountain lions have a total length, nose to tip of tail, of from 6 to 8 feet. The long tail averages 2 to 2-3/4 feet. Males are larger than females and have an average weight of 150 pounds, against an average of 90 pounds for females.

Mountain lions raise only one brood of young a year and the breeding season is extended, young kittens having been found during every month of the year. Kittens vary from one to four in a litter. There is much conflicting evidence regarding the "scream" of the mountain lion. After spending 30 years in close contact with mountain lions in the forests of the West, I have come to the conclusion that 99 percent of the alleged panther screams are really made by some other animal.

Deer constitute the staff of life of the mountain lion, and it is largely because of this that hunters are employed by State and Federal authorities to keep the mountain lions from becoming too numerous. In the Western States, some domestic stock is also killed by mountain lions but investigation in California has shown that most of the killing of domestic cattle and horses is done by a relatively few individuals, usually large old males that have turned "killers" and remain so until they are tracked down and eliminated. It is felt that every possible means should be used to end the lives of such destroyers. However, less than 15 percent of the lions killed and examined by State Lion Hunter J. Bruce have had remains of domestic stock in their stomachs. When a hardened criminal escapes from a State prison, the police do not start shooting every person they encounter. Selective hunting for "killer" lions should be employed rather than "scatter gun" methods.

The national parks are perhaps the only areas where we can expect to keep even a small portion of this country's original mountain lion population.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010