Cougars are a uniquely adapted creature. They are perfectly evolved to live in their natural habitat, from climbing to running to swimming. They are incredible athletes, without needing to go to a gym a single day in their lives. They do get coaching from their mothers for the first 6 months or so of their lives, but they are born with physical characteristics that make them very well suited to living in the wooded hills and plains throughout their range. Those characteristics make them the beautiful and competent apex predators that they are. Here are a few of their physical characteristics that make them into the perfect balanced package of agility and strength - and beauty.
Cougars are excellent climbers. Not only can they simply leap vertically up to 25 feet, they have highly-curved retractable claws that allow them to grip the tree for climbing.
Mountain lion paws are 3" to 5" wide, and they are about as long as wide, so their tracks are described as square or circular. Their front paws are larger than their back paws. Their wide paws probably help them swim, among many other things they are useful for. Mountain lions have been recorded swimming for 15 minutes and more at a time, and they aren't afraid of water at all.
Cougars have very long tails, which help them to balance. Do you notice anything that looks different about this cougar than many of the others we feature on this site? This cougar lives in captivity. You can tell by the fat belly, which you might recognize if you know any older domestic housecats, who tend to develop the same characteristic.
Cougars have relatively flat faces with prominent front-facing eyes. Their eyes allow them to see a single object with both eyes at the same time (that's called stereoscopic vision, and humans have it too). That's very important to depth perception and the ability to stalk prey. You can't see it in this picture, but they also have a special adaptation to their retinas that gives them great night vision.
With hiking and camping season coming right up in most of the places where mountain lions live, we thought this would be a good time to talk about good mountain lion safety practices for being in the outdoors.
First, you should know that you have incredibly small odds of even seeing a cougar at all, let alone having an interaction with one. If you do see one in a safe manner, you should consider yourself extremely lucky! Very few people in the world will get to see something as awe-inspiring as a wild mountain lion. The threat of a dangerous encounter is very rare.
If you do have an encounter with a cougar it will help to know what steps you can take. You can do this by making noise when you are hiking and biking, especially at dawn and dusk. Travel together with friends. If you enjoy the outdoors with children (we hope you do!), have children stay close to adults.
If you see a cougar at a close range, first and foremost, don't run! And, make yourself look big. Don't bend down to pick up a stick, but if you are already carrying a walking stick or wearing a jacket you can raise it above your head to make yourself look as big as possible. You'll want to use your voice to talk in a loud firm voice and tell the cougar to get away. This video from Western Wildlife Outreach does a great job of showing a demonstration of what this looks like. http://westernwildlife.org/videos/ (it's the first video on the page). Plus it's narrated by Chris Morgan, the same fine voice talent that narrated our Secret Life of Mountain Lions video!
We hope you have great plans this summer for adventures in the wide-open spaces that support cougars AND humans in important wild ways! For more information on how to avoid a negative encounter with a mountain lion, bear or wolf, go to Western Wildlife Outreach website http://westernwildlife.org/videos/
Rat poison kills far more than just rats. The poison, or rodenticide as it's also known, accumulates in the small rodents, which are then eaten by larger animals. This is a problem virtually everywhere, and for all kinds of predators from hawks to bobcats.
Here at The Secret Life of Mountain Lions we were saddened by this recent report of a bobcat that had to be euthanized in the Santa Monica area in California. It's not likely that anyone is trying to poison the big cats on purpose. But the poison makes its way up the food chain without anyone's intent. According to the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, eleven out of twelve mountain lions in their area tested positive for two or more rodent toxin poisons.
What can you do? Educating yourself and those in your neighborhood is always the first step. An organization called Raptors Are The Solution has a great set of tips for alternative ways to manage rodents. And The Hungry Owl Project also has insightful information about how rodenticides get into the food chain, and a very cool suggestion for rodenticide-free management techniques!
You can also spread the word by sharing alternatives with your family, friends, and neighbors, or posting on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below. Thank you for your help!
Ask nearly anyone who has had the experience of seeing a cougar in the wild, and you will hear words like amazing, surreal, and profound. The odds of seeing a cougar at all are very slim, and the chances of having a negative interaction with a cougar are smaller still. But with hiking season approaching soon, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about some safety tips for being outdoors in mountain lion territory.
Fortunately for us, The Western Wildlife Outreach has already compiled some great tips, including things about protecting your pets and livestock if you live in mountain lion country. Have a look here http://westernwildlife.org/cougar-outreach-project/tips-for-coexistence-with-cougars and then let us know if you have any more of your own tips to add.
Enjoy your hikes!