Did you hear the good news? Mountain lion populations are recovering across the Midwest. Three cheers for conservation!
Felis concolor (meaning “cat of one color”) has many common names that refer to the same animal, including mountain lion, cougar, puma, and panther. It holds the world record for most common names, with more than 40 names in English alone. The reason this big cat has so many different common names is that it has such a large range. It lives throughout North and South America and can survive in a variety of habitats from swamps to forests. Mountain lions can live up to 20 years in the wild. They may live even longer when part of a managed population.
Mountain lions have lived in Texas for thousands of years. A hundred years ago, mountain lion populations were declining across the United States due to overhunting and loss of prey. Mountain lions that weren’t trapped or killed by hunters had a hard time finding food to eat. The mountain lion is a carnivore that feeds on large hoofed mammals (such as moose, elk, white-tailed deer, and caribou) that are often the target of hunters. Other prey includes coyote, bobcat, squirrel, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, and skunk.
Thanks to hunting regulations, white-tailed deer populations have recovered in North America. In fact, deer are almost doing too well. Hunting is now being used as a management tool to make sure deer don’t overpopulate the land and take more than their fair share of natural resources. The abundant supply of healthy deer means the mountain lion is having a much easier time finding meals.
According to a study published in June 2012 by The Journal of Wildlife Management, mountain lions in the United States are making a comeback. Though the mountain lion’s recovery was uncertain before the 1990s, there was a steady increase of mountain lion sightings in the Midwest from 1990 to 2008. The report confirmed 178 mountain lion sightings between 1990 and 2008. There were 30 sightings in 2008 alone.
If this news sounds scary and leaves you thinking that you’re going to start running into mountain lions on your way to the grocery store, never fear! The mountain lion is a shy creature and usually remains unseen. Every year in Canada and the United States, there are only about four mountain lion attacks on humans.
In June 2011, a mountain lion was spotted in Connecticut – the first mountain lion sighting in that state since the 1880s. Connecticut is 1,800 miles away from the center of the mountain lion’s largest population in South Dakota. Biologists discovered that most of the traveling mountain lions – 76 percent to be exact – are males. It appears that male mountain lions, which are larger and stronger than female mountain lions, are embarking on long journeys and increasing the big cat’s range as a result. The survey said mountain lions were sighted as far north as Canada and as far south as Texas and Arkansas. The mountain lion is now returning to areas in Texas where the species has not lived for more than a hundred years.
While the mountain lion’s return is great news, it also brings up new problems. Mountain lions may conflict with farmers and ranchers because the big cats prey on livestock. One solution to this is livestock guard dogs. Guard dogs protect livestock from large predators, such as mountain lions. As you probably remember, this tactic is also being used in Africa to help save cheetahs. With cohabitation as the main goal, conservationists are finding ways for mountain lions and ranchers to live in harmony.
What can you do to help the mountain lion? Keep yourself and others safe by making sure the mountain lion stays in the wild, not your backyard.
- Keep pets indoors, especially at dusk and dawn when mountain lions are most likely to be active.
- Make lots of noise when you’re outside to scare away any nearby mountain lions.
- Go for a hike or walk-in groups, never alone.
- Don’t feed deer or attract deer to your home. Deer are the mountain lion’s main prey, and where deer go the mountain lion may follow.
- Trim away thick brush and plants so mountain lions don’t have anywhere to hide.
- If you do come across a mountain lion in the wild, stay calm and don’t run away (running may trigger the mountain lion’s instinct to chase). Read this pamphlet from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for more information about what to do if you encounter a mountain lion.
Make time to get outside and explore this week! I’d love to join you, so print out a copy of Sam on the Go and let’s go! Send pictures of our fun to Sam’s Inbox (email@example.com).
Until next time … happy exploring!
Abundant: (adjective) overflowing, plenty, more than enough
Active: (adjective) having action, movement, or in use
Biologist: (noun) a scientist who studies living organisms
Carnivore: (noun) an animal that feeds on other animals
Cohabitation: (noun) the act of humans and animals living together and both benefiting from the land equally
Confirm: (verb) to verify, validate or prove
Conflict: (verb) to disagree
Conservation: (noun) the careful use of a natural resource so we can enjoy it now and have enough of it to enjoy in the future
Embark: (verb) to begin a new venture or project, to set off
Habitat: (noun) the natural environment of an organism
Harmony: (noun) agreement
Instinct: (noun) a natural impulse or inclination
Mammal: (noun) a warm-blooded animal with a backbone that breathes air and at some point in its life has hair
Management: (noun) the act of caring for and maintaining something
Midwest: (noun) the northern-central region of the United States including North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio
Natural resource: (noun) an item found in nature (such as land, oil, or water) that is useful to humans
Overhunting: (verb) to hunt beyond capacity or in excess to a point that causes animal population declines
Overpopulate: to populate in numbers beyond capacity or in excess to a point that causes declines in available resources
Predator: (noun) an animal that lives by capturing and eating other animals
Prey: (noun) an animal hunted or captured by another animal for food
Prey (on): (verb) to hunt or capture another animal for food
Range: (noun) the area that a species lives within
Recover: (verb) to regain something that has been lost or taken away
Recovery: (noun) the regaining of something that has been lost or taken away
Regulation: (noun) a law or rule prescribed by authority
Sighting: (noun) the act of seeing; a vision
Species: (noun) a group of individuals having some common characteristics or qualities
Steady: (adjective) firmly placed, fixed, stable
Tactic: (noun) a plan or procedure for reaching a certain goal
Trigger: (verb) to set in motion or cause
Uncertain: (adjective) doubtful, not for sure
Unseen: (adjective) not visible, hidden
Variety: (noun) The state of having a lot of diversity or different options