Cougar, the Apex Predator
By: Megan Bradley
Date: January 2021
The cougar is found in many places within North America and Mexico. They prefer forested areas or rocky deserts where they can blend into their surroundings. Cougars are known as solitary animals; the mothers are only seen with their cubs, but if it is a male then they will be alone. Cougars have many names, some of them are mountain lion, panther, and puma. This cats’ closest relatives are jaguars and the African cheetah.
Cougars once roamed across most of North America, but human persecution has now almost completely eradicated the species from all areas but the western regions of Canada, the United States, and Mexico (Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust 2021). The only eastern U.S. state with a known breeding population is Florida. The Florida panther, a subspecies, is critically endangered, with an estimated population of 100 to 160 adults and yearlings, a figure that does not include panther kittens. (Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust 2021). Today cougars are classified as a game species and hunted for sport within thirteen states, some of these states are Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Texas (The Cougar Fund 2020).
For more information about cougars by state check out State by State | The Cougar Fund
We all know what a cougar looks like, after all it is Washington State University’s mascot, but what characteristics do cougars have that helped them to thrive?
Cougars have a lifespan of around 8-13 years and can run fast, hit speeds of around 40-50 miles per hour. This speed helps them capture bigger prey like elk and deer, which is mostly what adult cougars feast on. Younger cougars’ prey on smaller rodents like hares, rabbits, coyotes, racoons, and sometimes livestock if food is scarce (Cougar (Mountain Lion) – Facts, Pictures, Diet, Habitat, Predators 2017). Cougars have strong jaws that help them carry prey that is twice their weight and claws that help them climb trees. These characteristics help them become a force of nature and easily establish them as an apex predator.
Cougars at Kamiak Butte
The Palouse area was once covered in plant life but now has been turned into multiple types of farmland along with most of the eastern part of the state. However, Kamiak Butte provides a dense forest on the north side making it a perfect home for cougars since there is plenty of prey within and around the butte to establish a good hunting ground along with rocks for the cougars to make a home out of. These characteristics of the butte have allowed for a diverse range of animals to call the butte home including the cougar.
A potential cougar den was recently spotted on Kamiak Butte. The team has set up a game camera hoping to video capture the cubs coming out of the den in the spring. People have also spotted the mother cougar running across the butte on the south side.
Cougar Sighting captured near Asotin Creek, Idaho. Approximately 50 miles south of Kamiak Butte. Captured by Dr. Pete VanMullem, Jan. 15, 2020
Potential Cougar Den at Kamiak Butte
Discovered by Undergraduate Teaching Assistants: Tholen Blasko & Emily Barrier with Dr. Bill Schlosser on December 8, 2020
Cougar (Mountain Lion) – Facts, Pictures, Diet, Habitat, Predators. 2017, May 11. https://animalsadda.com/cougar-mountain-lion-facts-pictures-diet-habitat-predators/.
Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. 2021. Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. http://www.wildlifelandtrust.org/wildlife/close-ups/cougar-close-up.html.
The Cougar Fund. 2020. State by State. Accessed 2021. https://www.cougarfund.org