The cougar is the largest of the three wild cats in Canada and is a formidable hunter. A large male cougar can weigh over 100 kg but is likely to be in the 60-80 kg range. Typically females are about 25% smaller than males.
These cats are light brown in colour and are quickly identified by their compact head and large heavy tail which has a black tip. Cougar tracks are large padded prints with no claws showing. Like domestic cats, cougars keep their claws retracted until needed for attacking their prey or climbing trees.
Cougars account for approximately 2,500 calls to the Conservation Officer Service reporting line every year, however many reported cougar sightings turn out to be animals other than cougars. Use our Wildlife Alert Reporting Program (WARP) to find a map that shows where cougars have been sighted in your community along with information about what has attracted them into the area. By knowing where wildlife is and what is bringing it in, we can all do our part to keep our wildlife wild and our communities safe.
- Cougars are “spot and stalk” hunters and have extremely good vision.
- Cougars have large home ranges and males have been recorded traveling over 50 kilometers in one day.
- Young cougars stay with their mother for up to two years at which time she forces them away to fend for themselves.
- Many urban incidents occur with young cougars that have not yet learned how to hunt effectively or older animals that can no longer hunt in the wilds.
- Cougars are secretive animals and are seldom seen by hikers.
- Cougars also go by the name mountain lion, puma, and panther.
- Cougars have one of the widest distributions of mammals in the Americas and can be found all the way from Patagonia to the Yukon border.
Cougars are strictly carnivorous and usually hunt deer, but will take young moose, elk, and bighorn sheep. Cougars will also prey on rabbits, squirrels, beavers or other small animals when the opportunity presents itself. When rabbits are plentiful they can form a substantial part of a young cougar’s diet. Since deer are one of the cougar’s primary food sources, there is a good possibility of finding cougars using an area where deer are abundant, especially a wintering area.
Contrary to popular belief, cougars do not pounce on their prey from overhanging rocks or trees, but stalk an animal and then use an explosive series of bounds to leap on their prey. Using both their razor sharp claws and powerful jaws they can quickly kill most prey they choose to attack.
Large prey takes a number of days to eat and the cougar will pull debris over the carcass to keep off scavengers. The cougar will stay near a kill site, returning to it regularly until the prey is completely consumed.
Attacks by cougars are rare but can be fatal, especially if young children are involved. Cougars in conflict are usually young cougars that have not yet learned how to hunt efficiently and are looking for an easy target, or are older cougars that can no longer hunt efficiently in the wilds.
If you encounter a cougar, keep calm. Make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the cougar. Pick up children and small pets immediately. Never run or turn your back- sudden movements may provoke an attack.
If you notice that a cougar that is watching you, maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak to it in a loud firm voice. Reinforce the fact that you are a human and not an easy target. Back out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.
If a cougar shows aggression, or begins following you, respond aggressively in all cases as cougars see you as a meal: keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises, and show your teeth. Pick up nearby sticks, rocks, or whatever you have at hand to quickly to use as a weapon if necessary- crouch down as little as possible when picking things up off the ground. If the cougar attacks, fight back, focusing on its facial and eye area. Use rocks, sticks, bear spray, or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and are not prey.
Call the Conservation Officer Service reporting line (1-877-952-7277) to report the incident.
Reducing Conflict Where We Live
- Cougars are wide ranging animals and may show up in urban settings from time to time. If they are passing through it is important they do not find prey items that may encourage them to stay.
- Feed pets indoors, or if fed outdoors, bring in any uneaten food as the smell of pet food may attract cougars in addition to the pets (potential prey) themselves.
- Keep your pets indoors, especially at night. Cats and small dogs that are left to free-range can become easy prey targets.
- Bird feeders can attract cougars. If the ground below the feeder is not kept clear, seeds can accumulate, attracting rodents and, in turn, attracting cougars that feed on the rodents and other animals such as deer that are brought in by the bird feed.
- If you keep chickens or small livestock use a properly installed and maintained electric fence. Store all your feed in a secure location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants (again, the feed attracts rodents and the rodents, in turn, can attract other predators and cougars).
- Never feed deer or other possible prey species for cougars. While deer may be pleasant to watch, they can attract large predators into residential neighbourhoods. As well, urban deer present their own set of problems to you and your neighbours.
Children and cougars
Cougars may view children as prey targets due to their small size, high-pitched voices, and quick movements. In the event of a cougar encounter, pick up your children immediately.
The following are recommendations from the Conservation Officer Service for children’s safety in cougar country:
- Talk to your children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar (see ‘Cougar safety’ section).
- Children playing outdoors in cougar country should play in-groups. Do not leave children unsupervised.
- Consider getting a dog or using a dog as an early warning system. A dog can see, smell and hear a cougar sooner than a human (but be aware that off-leash dogs can attract and bring cougars and bears back to you).
- Consider erecting a fence around play areas. While cougars can leap or scale most any fence, a solid wood fence that prevents a cougar from looking into a yard may lower the chance that a cougar will access the yard.
- Make sure children are home before dusk and stay indoors until after dawn - the period of time cougars are most active.
- If there have been cougar sightings, escort children to the bus stop early in the morning. Clear shrubs away from around the bus stops, making a radial area of about 9 metres.
- Installing a light at the bus stop may also increase security.
Reducing Conflict Where We Work
Working in cougar habitat
Anyone working in the outdoors should be aware of what wildlife is around them. Cougars are found throughout British Columbia and both backcountry and frontcountry workers can usually assume they are within potential cougar habitat, especially in the southern third of the province.
Before heading out into the outdoors, familiarize yourself with cougar habits and biology. Work in pairs or groups, be alert for tracks, scat, scratched trees, and other signs of cougars (such as animal carcasses buried under vegetation) and make noise to alert wildlife of your presence, so as to not experience any surprise encounters. If you come across a food cache (buried prey), leave the area immediately. If you happen to encounter cougar kittens, leave the area immediately and do not approach or handle them. Female cougars are defensive with their young.
Make sure to bring any required safety equipment (see checklist below) and learn what to do in the event of a cougar encounter or attack (see Cougar safety section). If you are unsure, contact a WildSafeBC Community Coordinator for more information or to arrange a wildlife safety training session for you and your coworkers.
Have your workplace Safety Officer or manager create a checklist that should be used daily before heading into the field.
Your checklist should include at minimum:
- List of safety equipment to bring with you (e.g. cell phone, satellite phone, GPS unit, first aid kit, bear spray and holster).
- Location and address to nearest hospitals complete with drive times.
- Check-in contact information and schedule.
- List of other important contacts for the field crew.
- Sign up and check for WARP (Wildlife Alert Reporting Program) alerts through WildSafeBC.
- Inspection schedule for equipment (e.g. check that bear spray is within expiry date and there are no seal cracks, check that first aid kit is complete).
Contact your local WildSafeBC Community Coordinator for help with creating your checklist.
Reducing Conflict Where We Play
Hiking and camping
Cougars hunt at any time of day and night through all seasons, but they are most active during the period from dusk until dawn and this period requires extra vigilance by hikers while in cougar country. To stay safe in cougar country, follow these rules:
- Avoid hiking alone; travel in pairs or groups. Cougars are less likely to attack groups of people.
- Make noise as you move, to avoid surprise encounters with cougars (and bears). Be extra vigilant in strong wind or near loud water.
- Keep pets leashed, or leave them at home if you don’t think you’d be able to control your pet in the event of a cougar (or bear) encounter.
- Keep children in view, and don’t let them wander alone (see ‘Children and cougars’ section).
- You can carry a walking stick that can be used as a weapon in the unlikely event of a cougar attack.
- Watch for cougar tracks and signs (scratched trees, scat, food caches- unconsumed prey covered with vegetation). If you encounter food caches or fresh tracks, leave the area immediately.
- In the unlikely event you encounter cougar kittens (they are usually well-hidden by their mother), do not attempt to handle or approach them. Leave the area immediately. Females will defend their young.
- If you encounter a cougar, keep calm and back away slowly, allowing the cougar an avenue of escape. Pick up children and small pets. Never run or turn your back. If a cougar shows aggression, fight back with anything you have at hand. See the ‘Cougar safety’ section for detailed information in the event of a cougar encounter.
Pets left outdoors to roam freely are easy prey for cougars, especially very young or old cougars who may not hunt efficiently in the wild and are looking for easy targets. The continued disappearance of cats and dogs in a neighbourhood can be an indication of a cougar in the area. Keep your outdoor pets behind fencing, and bring them in at nighttime. Don’t feed pets outdoors, and if you must, make sure to clean up any waste or crumbs. Pet food is a large attractant for small mammals such as raccoons and squirrels, which are prey for cougars.
Reducing Conflict Where We Grow
If you keep chickens or small livestock, a properly installed and maintained heavily woven-wire or electric fence can help prevent your animals from becoming meals for a cougar. Chicken coops and runs should be covered as cougars may leap or climb over fencing. Put small domestic livestock in an enclosed area at night. Use lighting around barns and pens to deter predators. See our fencing information or contact your local WildSafeBC Community Coordinator for more information on building a secure fence.
Store all your feed in a secure location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants. Livestock feed attracts rodents and other animals, which in turn can attract cougars.
Repellents and scare devices currently on the market may be an attractive option to deter cougars, however cougars are intelligent and quickly adapt. If you wish to try such devices, using a combination of devices and/or alternating between them may be more effective. Devices include lighting and flashing lights, sound amplifiers, horns, and propane cannons. There are currently no known odour or taste repellents that are effective on cougars.
Check with your local bylaws before using any of the above devices.
Additional animal husbandry techniques may be useful in deterring cougars from preying on livestock. The following are outlined by the Conservation Officer Service:
- Cougars prefer to hunt and stay where escape cover is close by. Removal of brush and trees within 1/4 mile (.4 km) of buildings, barns and livestock corrals can result in reduced predation/harassment.
- Having livestock born inside barns or sheds will usually prevent predation and will also reduce newborn deaths that result from inclement weather.
- Avoid using pastures that have had a history of predation.
- Pastures that are closer to buildings and human activity can be safer for young livestock.
- Pastures with rough terrain or with dense vegetation bordering them offer cover for predators.
- Check on the status and condition of livestock regularly in order to ensure that predator problems are identified quickly.
- Regularly counting of your livestock is important in large pastures or areas with heavy cover where dead livestock could remain unnoticed. It is not unusual for livestock producers that don't regularly count their herd to suffer substantial losses before they identify that they have a predator problem.
- Sick, injured or old livestock should be removed from the herd as predators may key in on these animals. Once a predator identifies livestock as easy prey it will likely continue to kill even healthy animals.
- Keep records and identify each animal through tagging or branding to make it easier to identify losses.
- Keep a journal of predator problems. Over time this journal can be used to show areas or time periods in which predator problems peak. Preventative measures can then be taken.
- Remove livestock and poultry carcasses by burying, incinerating or rendering to reduce attractants.
- Farmers and ranchers must comply with all federal, provincial, and municipal regulations surrounding hunting, trapping, and the use of firearms. If livestock is injured or killed, you may report it to the Conservation Office line (1-877-952-7277).