Territorial Mountain Lions

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The mountain lion was once near extinction. A wildlife treasure of Western America, this big cat is known by many other names, like the puma, cougar and deer tiger. While wild populations have rebounded over the years, habitat loss, poaching and territorial overlapping with human settlements continue to threaten the species.

These solitary big cats are highly territorial and roam their range on the lookout for both invaders and prey. In Western Texas, mountain lions have been known to have a territory of 1,000 square miles. But in other states – like Idaho and California – some big cats patrol a much smaller perimeter, perhaps twenty-five miles. Each cat’s boundary is marked with urine, leaves and dirt.

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Mountain lions are nocturnal hunters that stalk their prey until the perfect pouncing opportunity. They grasp their prey (like porcupines and raccoons) with huge claws. Then, they bite down the back of the neck with sharp teeth, attempting to sever the victim’s spinal cord. Once a puma’s ready to feed, his rough tongue is capable of scraping meat right off the bone. These big cats will often hide large carcasses in order to have several days’ worth of food.

Although mountain lions are shy animals and it’s rare to encounter one in the wild, some simple tips can minimize human-lion conflicts. When hiking and camping in mountain lion territory, always bring a friend or dog with you. If you happen to spot a cougar in the wild, never approach the animal – give it space and time to flee. Do not bend or crouch down; instead, raise your arms or open up your jacket to appear larger. Learn more safety tips here.

Read an article about mountain lion confrontations in National Geographic Adventure magazine, and check out a video about capturing mountain lions in Colorado.

Want more? Get big cat facts and learn all about National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative.