Puma (Puma concolor)

Also known as: cougar, mountain lion, panther
Synonyms: Felis concolor
  
Spanish: León Americano, León Bayo, León Colorado, León De Montaña, Mitzli, Onza Bermeja
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyFelidae
GenusPuma (1)
SizeHead-body length: 105 – 196 cm (2)
Tail length: 67 – 78 cm (2)
Average male weight: 53 - 72 kg (3)
Average female weight: 34 - 48 kg (3)
Top facts

The puma is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3). Subspecies: Puma concolor coryi (Florida puma), P. c. couguar (Eastern puma)and P. c. costaricensis are listed on Appendix I of CITES (4). A number of other subspecies exist, but are not classified separately on the IUCN Red List.

Other than man, the large, slender puma (Puma concolor) has the greatest natural distribution of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere (5). The puma, also known as the cougar, mountain lion and panther, is powerfully built and extremely agile. These cats are characterised by a long body with unusually long hindlimbs, thought to be an adaptation to bursts of high-speed running and jumping, used to chase and ambush prey (5) (6). The cat has a long neck, a small, broad head, short, rounded ears that are black on the back, and a long, cylindrical tail with a black tip (5) (6). The coat is of uniform colour, hence the Latin name, concolor, varying from silvery-grey through tawny-yellow to light reddish brown (3) (7). The throat, chest and belly are a pale buff to whitish colour (8) and the sides of the muzzle are framed in black (5). Faint horizontal stripes may occasionally be seen on the upper forelegs, and melanism has been widely reported though not confirmed (3) (5). Young kittens are spotted, with blue eyes (3). Males rarely weigh more than 100 kilograms, and depending on sex and age, tend to be larger in the north of their range (3), and the coat is generally longer to insulate against extreme temperatures (7).

Widespread, ranging from areas in Canada, down through the United States, south to Central and South America. However, the pumas’ range has greatly retracted, having been eliminated from the almost the entire eastern half of Northern America following European colonisation (1).

The puma is highly adaptable, found in a diverse range of habitats, from arid desert to tropical rainforest to cold coniferous forest, from sea level up to 5,800 metres in the Andes (3) (5). Studies have shown that habitat with dense understorey vegetation is preferred, but these cats can also live in open areas with sparse vegetative cover (3). Although terrestrial, pumas can swim and climb trees when they need to (5).

Pumas are solitary cats, with the exception of one to six day associations during mating periods and contact between females and their young (8). Males occupy large territories that overlap those of several females; the boundaries of the territory are marked by scrapes left in prominent positions (3). Females advertise their receptivity to mating with loud scream-like calls (5). Mating occurs year-round, but is concentrated from December to March in northern latitudes (8). The female gives birth to her litter of between one and six kittens within a den; the kittens are initially blind and helpless, remaining in the den whilst their mother forages for food (3) (8). At around two months of age they are able to accompany their mother on hunting forays and remain with her until around 1.5 to 2 years old (9).

Pumas are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk, and rarely emerging in the day (3). These agile yet powerful cats hunt by stalking and ambushing their prey (6). Pumas predominantly feed on ungulates, but are known to occasionally take smaller prey (10). In the northern areas of their range, they feed primarily on large ungulates, including elk and occasionally domestic cattle, whereas in tropical areas their diet seems to consist of more medium-sized prey (10).

Across their range, pumas have been considered a threat to livestock and persecuted because of this (1). Indeed, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimate that a minimum of 66,665 pumas were killed between 1907 and 1978. Additionally, pumas are one of the few large predators in Northern America that it is legal to hunt for sport and chase with dogs (5). This species is particularly vulnerable because it takes to trees when hunted, effectively becoming trapped (3). Pumas are also considered a potential danger to humans, especially children (8), although pumas almost never attack people (5). With people settling in more remote areas and with legal protection of the cat, the potential for conflict between humans and pumas arises, and there is a concern that pumas will lose their fear of being close to humans. In California and Florida, many animals are killed by vehicles as heavily travelled roads divide populations and even the home ranges of individual pumas. Loss and fragmentation of habitat also poses significant threats to the puma’s future survival, resulting in the serious problem of reduced genetic diversity associated with inbreeding, which in turn reduces resistance to disease or environmental change, and adversely affects fertility (7).

The puma is protected over much of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay, and hunting regulations exist in Canada, Mexico, Peru and the United States (1). However, there still remains no legal protection in Ecuador, El Salvador, and Guyana. Recently, the Florida puma has been declared extinct in the wild (9). Remaining viable tracts of habitat are being conserved and connected by corridors, and the impact of a major highway has been lessened by the construction of underpasses for the safe travel of pumas in the area (9). In 1995, wildlife managers controversially introduced several female pumas from Texas into Florida in an effort to increase genetic diversity. This is thought by many to have alleviated a number of problems associated with inbreeding amongst Florida pumas (6). The levels of prey species are being monitored, wild pumas have been vaccinated against diseases and a captive breeding programme has been established (1). Fortunately, despite conflict with ranchers and concern over the dangers pumas may pose to humans, there appears to be strong overall public support for the cat in North America. The fact that there is a genuine desire by many people to find ways to coexist with the puma is an encouraging step towards promoting positive conservation actions and protecting this beautiful cat (3).

For more information on the puma:

Authenticated (14/02/2008) by Dr. John Laundre, Senior Researcher, Instituto de Ecologia, A.C., Durango Regional Center. Mexico.

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group (March, 2006)
    http://www.catsg.org
  4. CITES (March, 2006)
    http://www.cites.org
  5. Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. (2002) Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  6. Big Cat Rescue (March, 2006)
    http://www.bigcatrescue.org/cats/wild/florida_panther.htm
  7. Big Cats Online (March, 2006)
    http://www.agarman.dial.pipex.com/puma.htm
  8. Animal Diversity Web (March, 2006)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/index.html
  9. Fish and Wildlife Service (May, 2011)
    http://www.fws.gov/endangered/i/A05.html
  10. Laundre, J. (2008) Pers. comm.