Cougars were once widespread throughout North America, but two-thirds of their original range has now been lost to humans. However, they can still be found as far north as Canada.
Cougars live in the U.S. and Canada and are found mainly in the west. There is also a small population that can be found in Florida. While in some areas, the cougar range is increasing, other states are seeing a decrease in the number of cougars.
In this article, I look at where cougars live in the U.S. and Canada, along with their habitat and the size of their territories. If you want to learn more about cougars, please read on.
The cougar was once the most widespread wild mammal in North America. Their range covered from British Columbia to Alberta in Canada and California to Florida in the United States.
Cougars had been found in the Yukon in Alaska but never seen in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have never been home to cougars on the East Coast.
Cougars are wild animals and stray into states where they are generally not seen, but most live in the West of North America, with small populations in Florida on the East Coast.
Where Do Cougars Live In North America
Cougars live in Alberta, Arizona, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Although there is a small subspecies of panthers in Florida, most live west of the east side of the rocky mountains, cougars can be found along the western half of Montana, through the western two-thirds of Wyoming and Colorado, along the eastern border of New Mexico, and down to the Mexican border in Texas.
Although many areas have historically been known as mountain lion territories on maps, cougars have not been seen for decades. Many of these areas do not have a resident population, with sightings coming from juveniles entering the area to find a new territory.
Although Montana and Washington State are classed as mountain lion habitats, many areas of these states are entirely uninhabitable for these animals.
Cougars can be found in Southern Montana, returning to the Missouri Breaks in the 1990s. Before this, they could generally be found in the Absaroka-Beartooth regions.
In North Dakota, cougars can be found in the Badlands in the west and east of Montana. Again, in the 1990s, mountain lions were seen more often in the state. However, hunting in the state has led to a decline in the cat.
In South Dakota, there is a population in the Black Hills. With a varied food source of elk and deer, the Black Hills make an excellent area for them. These animals are thought to have traveled from Wyoming, settling in South Dakota to breed.
Nebraska is not a state that many people believe has a population of mountain lions, but there is a small number, with estimates of twenty to thirty adults. These can be found in the Pine Ridge region in northwestern Nebraska.
Several breeding adults are in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border.
Cougars are shy animals and are generally not aggressive. However, they do sometimes attack humans. For more information on this and what to do if this does happen, I have written an article you can find here.
Mountain lions have been spotted as far east as New York. However, these are believed, and some have been genetically tested to be from western populations. With most of these animals being males, it is unlikely that there would be any breeding pairs in these areas.
Although most cougars can be found in the west, there is a population of cougars in Florida. There are thought to be up to 150 panthers in the state. The Florida Panther is a subspecies of cougar, recognized by the USFWS and many biologists.
Due to inbreeding and genetic defects in the small population, eight females were brought in from Texas to help turn this around, although many argued against this as it would dilute the subspecies.
Cougars can be found in nine counties in Florida. Miami-Dade Counties and Collier County are the areas with the largest populations.
The Florida Panthers can be seen from Fort Myers in Lee County to Lake Okeechobee in Palm Beach County. They can be seen from the south of Lake Okeechobee down to Manatee Bay.
What Is A Cougars Habitat?
Due to the way they hunt their prey, cougars need a habitat that allows them to hunt and has enough food to survive.
Cougars are different from most big cats as they will not chase after their prey. They will stalk their prey, lying in wait before pouncing on the unaware animal.
Cougars need a habitat that allows them to hunt in these ways. Cougars do not like open areas and will try to keep to these areas’ borders, looking for places to take cover.
Cougars have been pushed from their natural habitats by man and now reside in areas where humans are not present. These are generally areas of coniferous and lowland tropical forests, mountains, swamps, ridges, and deserts where the cougar has to try to survive.
Due to their preference to stalk and leap on prey, such as deer, cougars prefer areas with cover. Forests of pine and fir trees make excellent coverage for cougars, although the type of trees is not as crucial as providing shelter.
Cougars prefer higher elevations and have been spotted on mountains at fifteen thousand feet. Cougars are rarely found down in the bottoms of valleys. Some cougars in Arizona starved even though there were deer in the valleys below as they didn’t want to enter the unknown territory.
Two of the largest cougars on record came from very hot habitats in Utah and British Columbia.
How Large Is The Territory Of A Cougar?
Cougars hunt over large areas, so a permanent den is not needed like some mammals.
In some states, such as Idaho, cougars were found to have different summer-fall and winter-spring areas. From winter to spring, cougars have been found to use between 31 and 243 sq km, but in summer through to fall, their areas increased to 106 to 293 sq km. The smaller territory in winter can be attributed to snowfall in the area.
There was approximately one adult cougar per 35 sq km in Idaho, but in other areas, this is as low as 21 sq km or as high as 200 sq km. Females overlap in other territories, but males do not. Young cougars can be found to move through the areas of both females and males.
Due to their solitary nature, cougars will avoid another territory except when they are ready to mate. A male’s territory may overlap with several female cougars but will rarely overlap with another male.
Females occupy more extensive home ranges than males, and their territories may overlap with other females completely. Due to their solitary nature, cougars avoid meeting by using vocalizations and scent markings.
Cougars have a tenure system on the territory, with the area being taken until the resident dies. This leads to many young cougars seeking out new territories, limiting their ability to mate. Juvenile cougars may have to travel long distances to find a new home range that is not already occupied, with some traveling up to 1,00 km.
Due to the overlap of female territories, young males generally have to travel further to find a new territory, sometimes two to four times as far as females. Some females may even make their territory next to their mothers.
Do Cougars Have A Den?
Cougars are unlike jaguars and bobcats, as they do not have a fixed den. However, females will use a den to rear their young. Females will use their entire range until they have kittens.
These dens can be made in rocky crevices, heavy vegetation, and small caves. An area for denning kittens has to have sufficient cover and a rich food supply to enable the young to survive.
Why Has The Cougars Range Declined?
As all animals do, the cougar needs enough food to survive, but the decline of their food sources is not the only reason the cougar range has declined.
Humans have directly and indirectly persecuted cougars. Hunting and poisoning are ways that man has killed cougars.
Other, more indirect problems have also led to the decline of the cougar range. Logging, agriculture changes, and new human settlements have taken their range away from them, pushing them into newer habitats.
Their current range is approximately 50% of their original range, directly related to our influence on the planet.
Why Are Cougars Seen Outside Of Their Natural Range?
There are a few reasons why cougars have been seen out of the usual range. Cougars can be found at the borders of their usual range, with people in the Yukon sighting cougars for decades. This can be attributed to many mule deer being in the area.
Alongside this, many cougars have been kept as pets. Sometimes the cougar may escape from their owner, but cougars are often released when they become too big or challenging to keep as pets.
Other cougars may escape from zoos or local game parks, leading to sightings in areas where they are generally not found.
Cougars have, in recent years, also been sighted in areas such as Alberta, Manitoba, North and South Dakota, and Texas, moving back into their historic range.
Cougars have been slowly increasing in numbers, especially in the west, although populations in Idaho, southern British Columbia, and Washington are declining.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.