The cougar, or mountain lion, is North America’s largest wild cat. An adult male cougar weighs between 63 and 90 kg, and a female between 40 and 50 kg. Cougar are solitary, except for mothers with young. Their prey species include deer, wild sheep, elk, rabbits, birds and other small animals.
Most active at dusk and dawn, cougar can roam and hunt throughout the day or night in all seasons. They have ranges up to 300 sq km and may roam up to 80 km in a single day.
During late spring and summer, one to two year old cougar become independent of their mothers. While attempting to find a home range, these young cats often roam widely in search of an unoccupied territory. This is when they are most likely to come into contact with people.
Signs of Cougar Presence
Although your chances of seeing one of these elusive cats is slim, you need to be aware of their existence when in cougar country. Cougar mark their territory along trails, under trees, or on the edge of a ridge. They use mounds of scraped and scratched earth, pine needles and other forest litter, soaked with urine and feces. The feces are usually large, partially covered and contain hair and bone fragments.
Cougar tracks look like those of a house cat, but are the size of a baseball. The tracks have four toes with three distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Claws usually do not leave imprints. The front paw is always larger than the back paw mark.
Cougar are predators at the top of the food chain, and their actions are often unpredictable. Following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict.
If you meet a cougar DO NOT RUN. Back away slowly, always looking them in the eye. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
Never turn your back on a cougar – face the cat and remain upright
Do all you can to make yourself look bigger. Hold a coat, branch or any other object over your head, or wave it around. Don’t crouch down or try to hide
Yell, throw rocks, speak loudly and firmly. Convince the cougar that you are a threat, not prey
Always give the cougar an avenue of escape
If the cat attacks FIGHT BACK. Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything they have, including rocks, sticks, fists, fishing poles, cameras, skateboards etc
Hiking in Cougar Country
- Hike in groups of two or more, and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar
- Be extremely alert when biking in cougar country – a human on a bike looks like a deer running to a big cat. You can’t hear anything coming if you are wearing ear buds with music playing
- Carry a sturdy walking stick and pepper spray to be used as a weapon if necessary
- Keep children close and under control
- Watch for cougar tracks and signs
- Check with the local park office about wildlife sightings before your trip
- If you stumble upon cougar kittens, leave the area immediately as the female will defend her young
Hiking with Children
- Cougar seem to be attracted to children, due to their high pitched voices, small size and erratic movements which are all similar to small prey animals.
- Talk to children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar. Encourage them to play in groups, and always supervise children playing outdoors in cougar country
- A dog is an effective early warning system, as they see, smell and hear a cougar sooner than people
- Pick children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may trigger an attack
Living in Cougar Country
Do not attract wildlife to your yard, especially deer, who will clean up under bird feeders
Never leave pet food outside, feed your pets indoors, and always bring your pets in at night
Place domestic livestock in an enclosed shed or barn at night