CatSG

Puma

Puma concolor

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 30-80 kg
Body length: 100-150 cm
Tail length: 60-90 cm
Longevity: 8-12 years, rarely more than 12
Litter size: 1-5 cubs, (usually 2-3)

Description

Although the puma is a large animal, it is believed to be more closely related to small cat species because it lacks the elastic hyoid and enlarged vocal folds of the Pantherines. The puma’s long spinal column is similar to the closely related cheetah, and provides increased lumbar flexion. Thirty-two subspecies have been described, but on the basis of genetic analysis six subspecies are now suggested:

  • P. c. cougar in North America
  • P. c. costaricensis in Central America
  • P. c. capricornensis in eastern South America
  • P. c. concolor in northern South America
  • P. c. cabrerae in central South America and
  • P. c. puma in southern South America. 

The puma has a rounded head, small, rounded ears with black backsides, a slim body, long legs and large feet. It has the proportionally longest hind legs of the cat family. As with the jaguarundi the puma’s coat colour can vary greatly even between siblings. The puma’s coat is plain and varies in colour from silvery-grey, tawny, reddish to dark brown. Only young pumas can have some stripes or spots. Melanism is widely reported and albinism is infrequent. The puma’s tail is long with a black tip and its chin, throat and belly are white. Its weight varies depending on range area. Pumas living in southern Chile and Canada weigh twice as much as pumas occurring in the tropics where they have to compete with the bigger jaguars. Males weigh 40-60% more than females and can reach weights of up to 120 kg. 

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Brazil

onça vermelha, onça parda

Colombia

léon sabanero, puma

Costa Rica

puma

English

cougar, mountain lion, catamount, panther, puma

French

puma

French Guiana

tig rouge

German

Puma, Silberlöwe

Guarani

guasura, yaguá-pytá

Mayan

cabcoh

Mexico

leopardo, puma

Spanish

léon, léon colorado, léon de montaña, puma

Suriname

reditigri

Status and Distribution

The puma is listed as Least Concern in the IUCN Red List. The Eastern cougar (Felis concolor cougar), a previous described subspecies, is now considered extinct and the Florida panther is classified as Endangered in North America. In Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru, the puma is classified as Near Threatened. In Brazil, subspecies outside the Amazon basin are classified as Vulnerable. In Chile its status is unknown and the puma listed as Data Deficient.

The puma was eliminated from most of the eastern half of the US over the 200 years following European colonization. In Florida, only a isolated remnant Endangered subpopulation persists which is estimated at 100-180 individuals. Records of pumas in northeastern Canada, the Midwest, and the eastern US are on the rise, indicating possible recolonization. In the early 1990s, the puma population in Canada was estimated to be 3,500-5,000, and to be 10,000 in the western US. The populations in Central and South America are lesser known, and it is not clear how abundant pumas are in the dense rainforest of the Amazon basin. In Uruguay, the puma is thought to be highly endangered. Densities vary between 0.5 and 7 individuals per 100 km². The lowest densities have been reported from arid regions. 

Puma density estimates

Country/Region

Density/100 km²

Argentina

0.5-0.8

Belize

2-5

Bolivia

5-8

Bolivia, Chaco National Park

2.9

Brazil, Araguaia River basin

3.4

Brazil, Pantanal

3

Brazil, southern

0.09-0.32

Mexico, west

3-5

Patagonia

6

Peru

2.4

U.S. California

1.2-2.3

U.S. Idaho

0.77-1.04

U.S. Utah

0.32-0.5

U.S. Washington

5.03

U.S. Wyoming

0.5-1.5

Venezuela

1.9

The puma has the largest geographic range of any native terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. It occurs from British Columbia in Canada and US throughout Central and South America to the southern tip of Chile.

Distribution area of the puma (red = extant, orange = possibly extant, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015).

Habitat

The puma can be found in every major habitat type in the Americas, from arid deserts, semiarid brush lands, and cold coniferous forests, to seasonally flooded savannahs and tropical rainforests except for a few densely populated coastal regions and the high reaches of the Andes. In southern Peru it has been recorded up to an elevation of 5,800 m. The puma prefers habitat with complex structure, including rocky, steep mountain ecosystems and varied forests with understory, but also occupies open habitats with minimal vegetation cover, such as Patagonia grasslands.

Puma in California, USA.
Puma habitat, Guyana.
Habitat of the puma, California, USA.

Ecology and Behaviour

The puma cannot roar but is capable of a variety of vocalizations, including chirps, hisses, growls, and whistles. Pumas are solitary and primarily nocturnal and crepuscular, with activity peaks at dusk and dawn. The puma is mostly terrestrial and hunts on the ground. However, it is a good climber and often escapes up trees when hunted by dogs. The puma hunts by stalking and attacking prey at close range and from behind. It can travel extensive distances while hunting.

Home ranges of pumas vary across their distribution. Average home ranges vary from 50-1,031 km². Male home ranges are typically twice the size of female's in the same area, and overlap with several females. The largest home ranges have been found in arid environments. Communication between pumas appears to be primarily olfactory. Pumas “scrape” with their hind feet, first with one foot and then the other. They repeat the process several times to create a neat pile of debris and/or soil and parallel swaths of exposed earth.

Pumas may breed throughout the year, but nonetheless, normally exhibit a birth pulse. Most births are reported to occur in the warmer months, which in North America is between April and September. Estrus lasts for 8-14 days, and gestation from 88-96 days. The age at sexual maturity is 24 months (sometimes 20 months) for both sexes. The time of first breeding probably depends on when a female is able to establish her adult home range. In a hunted population in Wyoming, females only entered the breeding population at age 3-4 years. Females in stable populations rarely breed with more than one male during estrus. The recruitment rate is estimated to be 1.0-1.3 cubs per breeding female and the interbirth interval is generally 18-30 months. Young stay with their mother for up to two years.

The adult sex ratio is generally 2:1 (f : m). Higher or lower ratios have also been found. The natural mortality of adults seems to be low (<5%). Mortality caused by sport hunting can be high, particularly among adult and subadult males. Mortality caused by intraspecific conflict may be higher in populations which are hunted where immigrants compete to establish territories and in populations where food resources are relatively scarce, such as the arid desert of New Mexico. Intraspecific strife can also be a significant cause of mortality in unhunted populations with low human impact. 

Pumas are good climbers.
Puma rubbing its back.

Prey

The prey of the puma varies from insects, birds and mice to porcupines, capybaras, pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep and moose. In North America, pumas feed primarily on ungulates, such as deer and elk, but elsewhere on smaller animals like feral pigs, raccoons, beavers, and armadillos. In Washington state and Wyoming, females killed more mule deer than males, and males killed more elk than females. In areas where the puma co-exists with the larger jaguar (interspecific competition), it seems to prey more on small to medium-sized animals such as pikas, hares, agoutis, marsupials, wild pigs, feral pigs, raccoons, and armadillos. In Chile, where jaguars do not occur, pudu deer, huemul, guanacos, and exotic European hares are common prey. The puma also takes livestock such as sheep or cattle.

Main Threats

The major threats to pumas are habitat loss and fragmentation, and human persecution. It has already lost up to 50% of its original distribution range. The remaining endangered subpopulation in Florida is threatened mostly by roads, which are the principal cause of mortality. Moreover, roads act as major barriers to puma movements and dispersal. Illegal and unsustainable hunting of the prey base of pumas is a problem as well.

The puma has been intensively hunted for centuries. By 1930, it was exterminated east of the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. and Canada, except Florida. In the western U.S., pumas have generally recovered, and can be legally hunted in most western States. In California, it is protected. The puma appears to be re-colonizing areas east of the Rocky Mountains, with well-documented populations in North Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Wyoming. The species is also expanding its range in Alberta, Canada. In some areas, puma-human conflict, including livestock predation and the rare attack on people, is a major issue. 

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

The puma is included in Appendix II of CITES. The subspecies P. c. costaricensis and cougar are included in Appendix I. The puma is protected across much of its range. Hunting is prohibited in Brazil, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Uruguay, and regulated in Argentina, Canada, Mexico, Peru and the United States. In Ecuador, El Salvador and Guyana the puma is not legally protected. In California, which holds one of North America’s largest puma populations, voters in 1990 narrowly approved a ballot initiative which directed the state to prohibit sport hunting of pumas (formerly permitted) and to allocate US$ 30 million a year for the next 30 years toward provision of habitat for pumas and other threatened species.

The isolated Florida subpopulation has been supplemented by a reintroduction of pumas from Texas and puma-friendly wildlife road crossings have also been contructed to help reduce vehicle-puma collisions. The Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission is currently involved in several collaborative projects for Florida panther conservation and management. These include studies of demographic parameters, habitat selection and movement rates. 

There is good information available about the protection status of the puma on a regional level in North America. Research and monitoring is well-established in the U.S. and Canada and increasing in Latin American countries. Nevertheless, there is a need for the implementation of programs to mitigate human-puma conflicts, to study the effect of puma versus jaguar depredation on livestock, and to assure connectivity between puma populations.