MOUNTAIN LIONS (COUGARS)
New Mexico provides an ideal habitat for mountain lions, although it is not believed we have a large population. However, there are regular mountain lion sightings and knowledge about this beautiful animal will make you feel more secure about how people and mountain lions can coexist.
Mountain lions, or Felis Concolor (cat of one color) are typically tawny in color; a light golden brown, with ears and tail tipped with black. They have clear yellow eyes and a pink nose. Like most species, the male is larger than the female, weighing 150 pounds on average and measuring 8 feet including the tail. The tail accounts for about 40% of the total length. Females can weigh up to 90 pounds and measure 7 feet in length.
SIGNS AND SOUNDS
Mountain lion tracks are easily recognized. Their back feet have 4 toes with 3 lobes. The front feet have five toes and, in combination with the large size, that distinguishes it from dogs and coyotes. Claw marks are typically not seen, since mountain lions, like all cats, have retractable claws. Lions hide their kill by covering it with a combination of leaves, twigs and dirt. Like all cats, they use scratching posts. These scratches can be seen high up on a much used tree trunk. They are usually secretive and quiet, but vocalizations can include growls, hisses and roars, and high-pitched screams when in heat. Mountain lions mark their territories with visible spots of urine and feces. Their scat is large and varied: cylindrical scat and pellets that are filled with hair and pieces of bone.
Mountain lions can live in a variety of habitat, from desert to sub alpine mountains, but will almost always be found where there are plentiful deer. Their range varies depending on gender, with males covering as much as 350 sq. miles, and females as little as 10 sq. miles. Their hunting territories can be several separate areas connected by pathways or one large area. Since they are stalking predators, they must get close to their prey. They have little stamina for a long chase, but are capable of great speed at short distances. They can leap at least 20 feet from a standstill. Therefore, they seek out habitat that has thick vegetation and a rugged, rocky terrain.
HUNTING AND FEEDING HABITS
Mountain lions are generally solitary hunters. They are carnivores and prey upon deer, young bears, coyotes, raccoons, porcupines, skunks and rabbits. They have specialized teeth and claws for hunting their prey. Like other members of the cat family, they have rough tongues that aid them in scraping meat from bone. Studies have shown individual mountain lions in the same area to have a strong preference for specific prey (one preferring deer, while another rabbit). This is thought to help limit competition with each other.
BIRTH TO MATURITY
Breeding occurs throughout the year, but females usually give birth in the late spring/early summer to 2 or 3 young, called kittens. The young are born in a den, and the kittens are about 12 inches long and weigh about 1 pound. They are covered with soft tan fur, with a smattering of dark spots, which will eventually disappear. The kittens learn to hunt by watching their mother, who begins to take them to her kills when they are about 6 weeks old. Kittens remain with their mother until they are about 1-1/2 years old, and are capable hunters. Black bears and other mountain lions will predate young lions. Mountain lions are thought to live up to 12 years in the wild.
Typically, mountain lions are evasive of people, and prefer remote, primitive habitat. However, they are usually found in areas with cover and deer, such as near urban developments, which can mean human-mountain lion contact. To minimize the chance of an encounter with a mountain lion, people need to have a healthy respect for this large cat. You can do this by following these guidelines and remember that every situation with a mountain lion is different:
LIVING AND HIKING IN COUGAR COUNTRY
· Don’t jog, hike or walk alone.
· Don’t jog, hike or walk at dusk or dawn.
· Keep children within arm’s reach when hiking.
· Carry a sturdy walking stick.
· NEVER APPROACH A COUGAR.
· IF YOU ENCOUNTER A COUGAR, STOP! STAY CALM.
· Immediately pick up children and calm them.
· DO NOT RUN - running encourages the cat to pursue.
· Face the cougar and stand tall.
· Open jacket or lift backpack over your head to appear larger.
· Back away slowly.
· If a cougar approaches - throw rocks, sticks and speak loudly.
· If a cougar attacks - fight back.
If you live in the mountains and have children, you must supervise them very carefully. Mountain lions are attracted to the noises that children make and their fast movements. Use common sense, be watchful, talk to your children. Make them aware of their surroundings and the animals that live here. Go over the above list with them. This is the largest predatory cat in North America and it shares the land with you. It’s true that we hear about mountain lion attacks but the truth is that they are very rare. There have been fewer than 15 fatalities in all of North America in the last 100 years.
1. DON’T FEED WILDLIFE. Predators will follow wildlife into your yard.
2. Keep pets in at night or in a covered kennel. Also, you should keep livestock in a shed or barn at night where lions are prevalent. A lion can jump an 8-foot fence.
3. Don’t leave pet food out at night; it attracts raccoons, which can attract mountain lions.
The mountain lion’s chief enemy is human encroachment on its habitat. Next to the bear, it is believed to be one of the most vulnerable animals in New Mexico.
Thanks to Sandia Mountain BearWatch for permission to use this article.body>