Cougar

Cougar Snapshot

The cougar (Puma concolor) is the largest of the three wild cats in Canada and is a formidable hunter. They are also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers. They are strict carnivores found throughout BC that primarily feed on deer. These cats are light brown in colour and are quickly identified by their compact head and a long heavy tail which is about one-third the length of their body and has a black tip.

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. Cougar attacks are very rare, but if you encounter a cougar, stay calm, never run and pick up small children immediately. Children are most at risk in a cougar encounter and they should be taught how to behave appropriately (see "Children and Cougars" in "Safety") to stay safe.

To report cougars in conflict, sightings in urban areas or a cougar showing unusual or aggressive behaviour, call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

Wild Cougar Facts

  • Cougars can sprint to over 70 km/hr
  • Cougar tracks tend to lack toenail marks are they retract their claws when walking
  • Cougars are not afraid of water and have been known to swim between islands
  • Cougars are widely distributed throughout BC and are the largest wild felines in the province followed by lynx and bobcat
  • Cougars are strict carnivores that usually hunt deer but will take down other young ungulates as well as small mammals.

Identification

Cougars tend to be light brown in colour with lighter patches under the chin and underside. They can be identified by their compact head and long heavy tail which is about one-third the length of their body and has a black tip. Cougar tracks have large padded prints with no claws showing. Like domestic cats, cougars keep their claws retracted until needed for attacking their prey or climbing trees.

Biology

Cougars tend to be solitary animals except when females are raising their young. There is no set breeding season for cougars and they may have many different mates over their lifetime. They typically have anywhere from one to six kittens but three is the average. Young will be left to fend for themselves any time after nine months of age.

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.

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. If you encounter a kill, leave the area immediately and report the location to local authorities and the BC Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

Behaviour

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 sharp claws and powerful jaws they can quickly kill most prey they choose to attack. Cougars are “spot and stalk” hunters and have extremely good vision. While cougars are widely distributed across BC, they are secretive animals and are seldom seen by hikers.

Range and Habitat

Cougars have large home ranges and males have been recorded traveling over 50 kilometers in one day. 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. They can adapt to a variety of habitats but tend to prefer areas with dense brush and/or rocky outcrops. Males tend to disperse further to establish their own territories.

Cougar Safety

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 wild. If you live in cougar habitat, ensure your children know how to react in a cougar encounter. Always report aggressive cougar behaviour, kill sites or cougar sightings in urban areas to the BC Conservation Officer Service.

The best cougar encounter is the one you avoid. Avoid walking alone and avoid surprise encounters by making noise with your voice. Be aware that loud water or high winds may prevent your voice from carrying far. Pets should be kept under control and on leash in wildlife country. Avoid hiking or using trails with poor sightlines at dawn and dusk when predators are most active.

If you encounter a cougar, keep calm and never run. 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. Older children should be kept close and in front of you so that you can ensure they remain calm and don’t try to flee. Never run or turn your back as 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. If you have bear spray, withdraw it from the holster and remove the safety. Back out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.

If a cougar shows aggression, or begins to follow you, respond aggressively. Keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises. Never ‘play dead’. Without crouching down, pick up nearby sticks, rocks, or whatever you have at hand to quickly to use as a weapon if necessary.

If the cougar attacks, fight back, focusing on its facial and eye area. If you have bear spray, discharge it. Use rocks, sticks or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and not prey. If you are in a group, stay together to fend off the cougar attack.

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.

Children and Cougars

Cougars may view children as prey targets due to their small size, high-pitched voices, and quick movements. Talk to your children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar. If you live in or near cougar habitat, here are some additional tips:

  • Children 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. However, 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 nine metres.
  • Installing a light at the bus stop may also increase security.

Conflict Reduction with Cougars

A cougar looking backwards while standing in the snow.Cougars are widely distributed throughout BC and conflicts may occur at any time of the year. Occasionally, they may be observed in urban settings. If they are passing through it is important they do not find prey items that may encourage them to stay.

Keep your pets indoors, especially at night. Cats and dogs that are left to free-range can become easy prey targets. Feed your pets indoors. Uneaten pet food can attract cougars and other cougar prey species such as rodents (rats, squirrels) and raccoons.

Avoid feeding or attracting other wild animals that may be prey for cougars. Fallen seed from bird feeders can attract rodents which are potential prey for cougars. Deer should never be fed or allowed to establish in urban communities as they are primary prey for cougars. Once deer become established, it can be very challenging to encourage them to move on.

If you keep chickens or small livestock use a properly installed and maintained electric fence that is maintained regularly and should follow WildSafeBC’s electric fencing guidelines. Store all of your feed in a secure rodent-proof location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants. 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. Refer to Growing in Wildlife Country for more information on raising livestock in cougar habitat.

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.

Snapshot

Cougar Snapshot

The cougar (Puma concolor) is the largest of the three wild cats in Canada and is a formidable hunter. They are also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers. They are strict carnivores found throughout BC that primarily feed on deer. These cats are light brown in colour and are quickly identified by their compact head and a long heavy tail which is about one-third the length of their body and has a black tip.

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. Cougar attacks are very rare, but if you encounter a cougar, stay calm, never run and pick up small children immediately. Children are most at risk in a cougar encounter and they should be taught how to behave appropriately (see "Children and Cougars" in "Safety") to stay safe.

To report cougars in conflict, sightings in urban areas or a cougar showing unusual or aggressive behaviour, call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

Wild Facts

Wild Cougar Facts

  • Cougars can sprint to over 70 km/hr
  • Cougar tracks tend to lack toenail marks are they retract their claws when walking
  • Cougars are not afraid of water and have been known to swim between islands
  • Cougars are widely distributed throughout BC and are the largest wild felines in the province followed by lynx and bobcat
  • Cougars are strict carnivores that usually hunt deer but will take down other young ungulates as well as small mammals.

Identification

Cougars tend to be light brown in colour with lighter patches under the chin and underside. They can be identified by their compact head and long heavy tail which is about one-third the length of their body and has a black tip. Cougar tracks have large padded prints with no claws showing. Like domestic cats, cougars keep their claws retracted until needed for attacking their prey or climbing trees.

Biology

Cougars tend to be solitary animals except when females are raising their young. There is no set breeding season for cougars and they may have many different mates over their lifetime. They typically have anywhere from one to six kittens but three is the average. Young will be left to fend for themselves any time after nine months of age.

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.

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. If you encounter a kill, leave the area immediately and report the location to local authorities and the BC Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

Behaviour

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 sharp claws and powerful jaws they can quickly kill most prey they choose to attack. Cougars are “spot and stalk” hunters and have extremely good vision. While cougars are widely distributed across BC, they are secretive animals and are seldom seen by hikers.

Range and Habitat

Cougars have large home ranges and males have been recorded traveling over 50 kilometers in one day. 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. They can adapt to a variety of habitats but tend to prefer areas with dense brush and/or rocky outcrops. Males tend to disperse further to establish their own territories.

Safety

Cougar Safety

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 wild. If you live in cougar habitat, ensure your children know how to react in a cougar encounter. Always report aggressive cougar behaviour, kill sites or cougar sightings in urban areas to the BC Conservation Officer Service.

The best cougar encounter is the one you avoid. Avoid walking alone and avoid surprise encounters by making noise with your voice. Be aware that loud water or high winds may prevent your voice from carrying far. Pets should be kept under control and on leash in wildlife country. Avoid hiking or using trails with poor sightlines at dawn and dusk when predators are most active.

If you encounter a cougar, keep calm and never run. 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. Older children should be kept close and in front of you so that you can ensure they remain calm and don’t try to flee. Never run or turn your back as 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. If you have bear spray, withdraw it from the holster and remove the safety. Back out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.

If a cougar shows aggression, or begins to follow you, respond aggressively. Keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises. Never ‘play dead’. Without crouching down, pick up nearby sticks, rocks, or whatever you have at hand to quickly to use as a weapon if necessary.

If the cougar attacks, fight back, focusing on its facial and eye area. If you have bear spray, discharge it. Use rocks, sticks or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and not prey. If you are in a group, stay together to fend off the cougar attack.

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.

Children and Cougars

Cougars may view children as prey targets due to their small size, high-pitched voices, and quick movements. Talk to your children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar. If you live in or near cougar habitat, here are some additional tips:

  • Children 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. However, 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 nine metres.
  • Installing a light at the bus stop may also increase security.

Conflict Reduction

Conflict Reduction with Cougars

A cougar looking backwards while standing in the snow.Cougars are widely distributed throughout BC and conflicts may occur at any time of the year. Occasionally, they may be observed in urban settings. If they are passing through it is important they do not find prey items that may encourage them to stay.

Keep your pets indoors, especially at night. Cats and dogs that are left to free-range can become easy prey targets. Feed your pets indoors. Uneaten pet food can attract cougars and other cougar prey species such as rodents (rats, squirrels) and raccoons.

Avoid feeding or attracting other wild animals that may be prey for cougars. Fallen seed from bird feeders can attract rodents which are potential prey for cougars. Deer should never be fed or allowed to establish in urban communities as they are primary prey for cougars. Once deer become established, it can be very challenging to encourage them to move on.

If you keep chickens or small livestock use a properly installed and maintained electric fence that is maintained regularly and should follow WildSafeBC’s electric fencing guidelines. Store all of your feed in a secure rodent-proof location and ensure feeding areas are clean and free of attractants. 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. Refer to Growing in Wildlife Country for more information on raising livestock in cougar habitat.

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.

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