Cougar, the Apex Predator

Puma concolor

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 

Cougar Characteristics

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. 

Cougar Habitats

Cougars are roaming animals and can be found in diverse habitats such as the cold woods of Canada, the rain forests of Brazil, the western United States, and the vast grassy plains (pampas) of Argentina (Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust 2021). They are very adaptable and can survive in tropical forests, swamps, grasslands, mountain conifer forests, desert scrub, and any location with adequate cover and prey. Cougars, however, prefer densely forested areas in coastal swamps, rocky cliffs, and mountain ranges as their habitat. (Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust 2021). They prefer these densely forested areas so they can stalk their prey better and have good hiding places for their dens.  The biggest threat to cougars is loss of habitat. Humans are venturing more into cougar habitats because of residential development and agricultural purposes, this makes it harder for cougars to establish sufficient hunting territories without risking human encounters. Cougars end up becoming the prey when it involves humans. Cougars are targeted for trophy hunting, protecting livestock and the general safety of pets and sometimes small children (Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, 2021) 

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. 

Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. 2021. Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust. 

The Cougar Fund. 2020. State by State. Accessed 2021.