The mountain lion is called by more names than any other Colorado mammal – cougar, puma, panther, catamount, or just plain lion – and all connote respect for such a magnificent hunter. Colorado’s largest cat, adult mountain lions are more than six feet long, with a graceful, black-tipped tail 32 inches long. They weigh 130 pounds or more. Color is reddish to buffy, paler below.
Cougars have the largest geographic range of any American native mammal other than humans – from western Canada to Argentina. Once they ranged from coast to coast in the United States, but today eastern populations are extinct or endangered; the West is their stronghold.
In Colorado, they are most abundant in foothills, canyons, or mesa country. They are more at home in brushy areas and woodlands than in forests or open prairies.
Active year-round, the lion’s staple diet is deer. Adults maintain their condition by eating a deer a week. Cougars hunt by stealth, often pouncing on prey from a tree or rock overhanging a game trail. The deer are often killed cleanly with a broken neck. The cat gorges on the carcass until it can eat no more, covers the remainder with leaves or conifer needles, then fasts for a few days, digesting and resting.
Mountain lions may breed at any time of year, but mating peaks in the spring. Births are most common in July, after a gestation period of about 14 weeks. Two or three spotted, fist-sized (about one pound) kittens are a typical litter. They are weaned about six weeks of age, at about eight times their birth weight.
If You Meet A Mountain Lion
Stay calm if you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly. Stop or back away slowly. Do not run. Raise your arms to appear larger. If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on. Without crouching down or turning your back. Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back.
Human encounters with mountain lions have increased in recent years, as human settlements have encroached on their habitat. Division of Wildlife’s booklet, Living with Wildlife in Lion Country is a valuable resource with important safety information.