English Common Names: Puma, Mountain Lion, Cougar, Panther, American Lion
Spanish Common Names: Puma, León de Montaňa, León Americano
Scientific Name: Puma concolor costaricensis
In Costa Rica they are considered in danger of extinction and protected under Wildlife Conservation Law No. 7.317 and they are also internationally protected by CITES (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species). The IUCN lists them as “Least Concern” which is the least endangered of its ratings.
The IUCN Conservation status order is as follows: 1) Least Concern 2) Near Threatened 3) Vulnerable 4) Endangered 5) Critically Endangered 6) Extinct in the Wild 7) Extinct
This is the second largest feline found in the tropics (the Jaguar 100-350 lbs. is the largest) and they can weigh anywhere from 55 to 150 lbs. (25 to 65 kg) with the males tending to be significantly larger than the females. The subspecies found in the tropical Americas is much smaller than those found in North America as is the trend with almost all other animals. Their North American cousins can measure 9 feet or more from head to tail and weigh from 150 to 230 lbs or almost 50% more. The Puma is thought to be more genetically related to the smaller cats than to jaguars, tigers or lions. They cannot roar like the other large cats but express a variety of vocalizations like a domestic cat including a strange “mewing chirp” when in heat and a harsh, humanlike scream while mating. When not in heat these creatures spend their time in a solitary existence and like all of the tropical felines avoid forming groups or socializing in any way. They do not maintain a permanent den but are nomadic and find convenient shelter in caves, rock formations, fallen trees or thickets.
Pumas are timid and reclusive by nature preferring to avoid humans. Attacks on humans are rare; however, they have been increasing in frequency over the years. Only 18 people have been killed by Pumas in the United States from 1890 to 2005, but from 2000-2009 there have been 5 fatal attacks.
The Puma has the greatest range of any large land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They can be found from Canada south to Argentina. The Puma is one of the most adaptable mammals on the planet and can live in habitats ranging from snow covered mountains to deserts to tropical rain forest to swamps like the Florida Everglades where they are known as the Florida Panther subspecies.
Hunting and Feeding: The Puma uses a “stalk and ambush” style of hunting mostly at dawn and dusk. Contrary to popular opinion these cats have a less developed sense of smell but a more developed sense of sight and hearing. They are extremely adept at lunging to catch prey and can leap more than 25 feet (some reports say 40 ft.) in a single bound. Their long, powerful rear legs are designed to give them maximum spring power. Their diet consists of small mammals such as mice, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, sloths, wild pigs, deer, and livestock including chickens, sheep, pigs and young cattle. These proud cats will rarely scavenge or consume prey they have not killed except in cases of extreme hardship. When larger prey is available they will make a kill about every two weeks and hide the carcass and consume it over the two weeks. With smaller prey they must kill more often but rarely more than every three days.
Reproduction and Lifespan:
The male and female Puma only meet to mate, and copulation is brief but is repeated several times in a short period of time before the male leaves. The female bears the sole responsibility of rearing her young and she takes her job very seriously. There have been reports of protective mother Pumas fighting off grizzly bears to defend their young. Male pumas will often try to kill the babies and that is why the mother avoids all other Pumas especially while she is caring for her cubs.
Although the Puma does not have a defined reproductive season, studies have found that births peak from February to September. Normally 2-3 cubs are
born, but this can vary from one to as many as six. The gestation period is a little over 90 days and the cubs are born blind and will not open their eyes for 10-15 days. They are also born with spots that serve as camouflage for their vulnerable early months and then eventually disappear. The cubs are weaned from their mother in 1-3 months and will be sexually mature at about 3 years old. These cats live longer than 20 years in captivity but only 8-13 years in the wild.
These cats are very territorial and require an enormous hunting territory to survive. To survive and maintain a genetically balanced population a single male Puma needs a territory of 50 to 300 square miles (150-1,000 square kilometers) to himself. Within that area are various female territories which overlap his and average 10 to 150 square miles each. These territories can vary in size depending on the terrain and the availability of prey but these numbers clearly demonstrate the need for enormous blocks of natural habitat to be preserved if we expect to maintain wild populations of Pumas. In order to maintain a genetically healthy population 500 individuals are needed. Under the condition that half of the population is male at a minimum you would need a connected range of 12,500 square miles.
In today’s world we all appreciate the impossibility of maintaining protected areas as large as those required by the dominant predators of the food chain. Even with this impossibility there is still hope in a concept called “Biological Corridors”. These are green corridors connecting different protected zones, allowing animals’ free mobility through protected gateways to and from protected habitats.
Meanwhile, maintaining a genetic bank of animals in captivity is a practical safeguard in case we need to repopulate the lost wild species assuming one day we can connect the biological corridors sufficiently to maintain healthy wild populations.