Cougars (Puma concolor, also called pumas, mountain lions, panthers, painters and catamounts) were hunted and driven out of most American states, but they are making a comeback.
The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club says a few of the big cats live in the Appalachian Mountains, though it’s unclear if they’re descendants of native cougars or were introduced somehow later. In fact, cougars may be more numerous now in the West than before Europeans arrived, according to cougar expert Dr. Maurice Hornocker, in a 2002 interview with The New York Times. Hornocker calls them “highly intelligent and highly adaptive predators.”
Cougars and people increasingly are bumping up against each other because:
- Their numbers are growing, thanks to hunting bans and preservation.
- The growing presence of deer in human communities is a powerful attraction.
- Livestock ranching attracts cougars.
- Human settlements are sprawling farther into wilderness, shrinking space available for the territorial cats whose males may claim a domain of from 50 to 150 square miles.
- The near eradication of wolves and grizzly bears, which are the cougar’s biggest predators.
Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare. Still, the number is growing, probably because of the increasing proximity of humans and cougars. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that in North America, between 1915 and 2015, roughly 25 fatalities and 95 nonfatal attacks took place.
- The Cougar Network gathers and maps sightings east of the Rocky Mountains.
- See a cougar caught unaware in this video, taken by a trail camera Nov. 24, 2015, on a Tennessee farm in the Knoxville, Tennessee, area.
Cougar safety tips
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife advises people living where cougars have been sighted to remember these precautions:
- Predators are attracted to prey, so don’t feed or otherwise encourage raccoons, squirrels or other small animals, feral cats or dogs or deer (including cultivating garden plants that deer like to eat) on your property.
- Install motion-sensor lighting outdoors.
- Keep a close watch on children and pets. Don’t let them be outdoors unaccompanied and keep them indoors at dawn, dusk and night. If you are in an area where a cougar may be near, keep children and pets close to you.
- If a cougar does appear, don’t try to play dead. If you’re attacked, fight. Don’t try to run. Face the animal directly, make lots of noise, pick up and hold any small children and try to appear as big as possible by waving your arms, jumping up and down and yelling.