Cougars / Mountain LionsPuma concolor
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Habitat: The Americas
Cougars - also commonly known as pumas, mountain lions, catamounts, Florida panthers, and many more names - are the second largest cat in the New World (after the Jaguar). It's habitat ranges from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America (hence all the different names). Once there were cougars in nearly every part of the United States, but hunters, farmers, and ranchers eliminated them from nearly all of their range in the Midwestern and Eastern parts of the country - except for the isolated Florida panthers.
Cougars are ambush hunters and generalist predators, meaning they will eat almost anything they can catch. Deer and goats are an important part of its diet, but they also hunt smaller animals like mice, raccoon, and wild turkey. Today, whitetail deer populations have rebounded over much of the mountain lion's former range and a few cats have appeared in more eastern states such as Missouri and Arkansas. Some biologists believe that these big cats could eventually recolonize much of their Midwest and Eastern range—if humans allow them to do so. Pumas are a keystone species. They have an incredible amount of impact on their environment, even in small numbers. They play critical roles in maintaining the structure and health of their ecosystem. Like a keystone in an arch, if it is removed, the rest of the arch collapses.
Mountain lions require a lot of room—only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile (78-square-kilometer) range. They are solitary and shy animals, seldom seen by humans. While they do occasionally attack people—usually children or solitary adults—statistics show that, on average, there are only four attacks and one human fatality each year in all of the U.S. and Canada.