Puma concolor couguar
|Listed||June 4, 1973|
|Description||Large tawny to grayish cat with white underparts and prominent whiskers.|
|Habitat||Mountains, woodlands, swamps.|
|Food||Deer and small mammals.|
|Reproduction||One litter of 3 to 4 kittens per season.|
|Threats||Diminished food supply, hunting.|
|Range||North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia|
The cougar Felis concolor is the largest cat in North America. Adult head and body length ranges from 43-55 in (107-137 cm) with a tail length of up to 36 in (91 cm). Mature weights range from 80-260 lb (36-118 kg). This cat has a round, broad skull and prominent whiskers. Its pelt is tawny to grayish. The tip of tail and back of ears are brown. The inside of the ears are light-colored, with blackish color behind the ears. Sometimes the cougar's face has a uniformly lighter tint than the general hue of the body. Its belly is pale reddish or reddish white.
The eastern cougar has been known variously as puma, panther, painter, catamount, or mountain lion, depending on the region where it was found. Positive identification of the true eastern cougar is made difficult by the cat's secretive habits and the possibility of interbreeding with other subspecies.
The eastern cougar has also been classified as Felis concolor couguar.
The cougar stalks its prey, leaping on its back from above or seizing it after a swift dash. It feeds mostly on deer and sometimes smaller animals such as beaver and rabbit. Hunting over a large territory, the cougar seeks temporary shelter in dense vegetation, rock crevices, and caves. The cougar is a good swimmer and has extremely acute senses of sight and hearing. Females appropriate or excavate dens for the birth and rearing of young. Most births occur in late winter and early spring. Litter size is three or four kittens, which nurse for three months or more and begin to eat meat at six weeks.
The cougar is found in undeveloped areas far from human disturbance—mountainous woodlands and swamps. The primary habitat requirement is apparently for a large wilderness area with an adequate food supply. Male cougars of other sub-species have been observed to occupy a range of 25 or more sq mi (65 sq km), and females from 5 to 20 sq mi (13 to 52 sq km).
Historically, the eastern cougar ranged throughout the eastern states from Michigan and Indiana east to the Atlantic coast, and from southern Canada south to Tennessee and South Carolina.
Present United States distribution, if it exists at all, is limited to only a few scattered areas at best. There have been some sightings reported in Minnesota and Michigan. These individuals are believed to have originated from around New Brunswick or Manitoba, Canada.
In the Southeast Region, there have been a number of sightings, but the best evidence for a small permanent population has come from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park Region. Based on a National Park Service study that included both sighting reports and field observations, there were an estimated three to six cougars living in the park in 1975. Sightings have also be reported in three other North Carolina areas including the Nantahala National Forest, the northern portion of the Uwharrie National Forest, and the state's southeastern counties. The remaining population of this species is extremely small; exact numbers are unknown. There has been some concern that the cougar may already be extinct; no breeding cougar populations within its historic range have been positively identified since the 1920s. but sightings, though rare, imply that the animal still exists, if in low numbers. Tracks and scat were observed in the Jefferson-George Washington-Monongahela National Forest in Virginia and West Virginia as recently as 1981, but no positive identification was made. So adept is the cougar at avoiding human contact that hunters probably no longer possess the lore and tracking skills needed to locate it.
Cougars were eliminated from successive portions of the eastern United States as European settlers became established and moved westward. Because cougars preyed on livestock, states offered bounties for killing them. In addition, the larger wild mammals such as the white-tailed deer that were the cougar's primary prey have declined. Extensive deforestation has also reduced available habitat.
Conservation and Recovery
In the 1990s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Forest Service, and the National Park Service jointly completed a five-year survey in an attempt to determine the presence of self-sustaining cougar populations in the southern Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Northern Georgia. The primary survey method was to search for cougar tracks in the snow, especially in remote areas such as closed sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other utilized techniques were scent stations using cougar urine, catnip, or other scents, and recorded sounds such as cougar screams, predator calls, and deer bleats. Although many promising leads were pursued, no concrete evidence was obtained for the existence of eastern cougar populations. Similarly, there have been no confirmed records of wild eastern cougars in the former range in eastern Canada. The eastern cougar appears to be extinct in the wild.
One of the more promising ways to positively determine if cougars are present is to collect and analyze scats (fecal droppings). A technique has been developed at Mississippi State University for identifying predator scats by thin layer and gas chromatography analysis of the various bile acids they contain. If confirmed populations of the cougar are discovered, then further recovery efforts will be initiated.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 2000
Atlanta, Georgia 30345-3319
Telephone: (404) 679-4159
Fax: (404) 679-1111
Downing, R. L. 1981. "Current Status of the Cougar in the Southern Appalachians." Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Symposium. Athens, Georgia.
Nowak, R. M. 1974. "The Cougar in the United States and Canada." Report. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1982. "The Eastern Cougar Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.
Wright, B. S. 1972. The Eastern Panther: A Question of Survival. Clark and Irwin, Toronto.