All About Cougars
CARE currently provides a home to 2 female cougars. One of them, Cassie, is becoming an internet sensation due to her popular "squeaks" on the social media app, Vine. And the other, Tawney, is pretty special too since she is Cassie's mom (and a really sweet girl). In celebration of our two feisty felines, we wanted to tell you a little bit about their amazing species!
The cougar (Puma concolor) is a cat with many names. They are called pumas, mountain lions, catamounts, Florida panthers, deer tigers, American lions, painters, and many, many others! In fact, cougars hold a Guinness world record as having the most common names of any animal. The reason they have so many names is that they have the largest range of any animal in the Americas. They have lived as far north as the Canadian Yukon and as far south as the southern Andes. The large range is due to their amazing ability to adapt to almost any environment. That also means that the people that live in all those different places have called the cats by many different names.
However, just because these animals have a large range, does not mean that they are not in danger. The wild cat conservation group, Panthera, says:
"Though the cougar is an adaptable and resilient cat, and occupies every major habitat type of the Americas, it was eliminated from the entire eastern half of North America and most of Patagonia within the 200 years following European colonization."
Photo courtesy of Panthera.org
In fact, as Cause an Uproar reports, by the 1970's U.S. cougars were only found in Florida and sparse pockets of the west. In more recent years more prey and better management has led to expansion and recolonization in the Midwest.
According to Panthera, the cougar is listed as "Least Concern" because it is so widespread. However, despite reports that cougars are increasing in portions of the U.S., the species is considered to be declining overall.
So what do declining numbers of cougars mean? Cougars are “umbrella” species used to identify and preserve wildlife corridors and natural landscapes, as well as keystone species vital to ecosystem health and diversity. A "keystone species" has a critical affect on it's ecosystem where their presence or disappearance determines the numbers and types of many other species in that environment. For instance, a predator like the cougar keeps the numbers of herbivores down. If that does not happen, then herbivore numbers explode and eliminate resources like different plant species and water sources. This, in turn, prevents other species (including people) from being able to find the resources they need to survive. The disappearance of a keystone species can literally destroy an ecosystem and many of its inhabitants.
If that is not reason enough that these animals are worth protecting, they are also amazing creatures! Did you know that despite their size, the cougar does not meet all of the criteria to be considered a "big cat"? The genus name Panthera (where the term "panther" comes from) means "big cat". Panthera is a genus within the Felidae family and consists of lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. Even though cougars can become larger than some leopards, they do not belong to the Panthera family at all. Instead they belong to a separate genus that is more closely related to your house cat than they are to a lion or jaguar. An easy way to tell if a big cat is a "Big Cat" is if the animal purrs or roars. All Panthera cats roar, like lions, but they can't purr. All non-Panthera cats purr (like cougars, cheetahs, and domestic cats), but do not roar! Cougars make a lot of other sounds too like screams, squeaks, meows, hisses, spitting, and growling.
Cougars are also amazing athletes. Cougars have been known to jump as high as 18 feet straight up into the air (Cassie will often hit the high roof of her enclosure) and jump as far as 40-45 feet horizontally. They can run between 40 and 50 mph too! They are excellent climbers, which help them avoid other predators and hunt in areas that their main competition, wolves, cannot get to. They also have huge paws, with their front feet being larger to help them land when jumping and hold onto prey.
Some other interesting facts about cougars is that they are typically solitary, only seen together for mating and when a female is raising her cubs (often called kittens). When baby cougars are born, they are covered in spots which they lose as they get older. Cubs tend to stay with their moms 1 1/2 to 2 years to learn how to hunt and take care of themselves. typically live 8 - 13 years in the wild. Isn't it amazing that most of the cougars living at CARE have lived to 17 - 20 years old!! That's almost double their normal life expectancy!
You can learn more about the amazing cougar and how some organizations are working to ensure their survival in the wild below.