Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Animal of the Week: Cougar

The cougar, also known as the mountain lion, puma, mountain cat, catamount, mountain screamer, painter or panther, is the second largest cat in the Americas following the jaguar. It actually holds the Guinness record for the most amount of names. It has over 40 in English alone! This is probably due to it’s wide distribution. It has the widest range of all American land animals ranging from the northern Yukon in Canada to south in the Andes. Due to over hunting the cougar’s presence in the east coast of North America has been almost eliminated. However in recent years there have been sightings in Chicago, Connecticut and Quebec.

The cougar, although growing to a size of 65kgs (145lbs) is more closely related to the domestic cat than the Big Cats (lions, tigers, jaguars and leopards). It is the largest cat that can purr. Cougars have a great skill set which has ensured their survival throughout their range. They cat leap vertically over 5m (16ft), and horizontally more than 13.7m (45ft). That means they could jump over a school bus the long way. They are also the fastest animal in the Americans, capable of a top speed of 65kph (40mph). Cougars can also climb trees and swim.
The cougar's range
The cougar is a apex predator, helping maintain populations of other species in it’s habitat. In various regions, it must compete with other predators, such as the larger jaguar, brown bears, grey wolves and in Florida the American alligator. Yellowstone National Park completed a fascinating study of inter-predator relationships and found that brown or American black bears visited 24% of cougar kills in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, successfully seizing just 10% of carcasses. When it comes confrontations with the grey wolf, the outcome depends on numbers. A pack of grey wolves has been witnessed killing a cougar and her kittens, while a cougar can easily kill as solo grey wolf. In the southern portion of its range, the cougar and jaguar share overlapping territory. The jaguar tends to take larger prey and the cougar smaller where they overlap, reducing the cougar's size in these areas.

Cougars utilise the stalk-and-ambush method to hunt a variety of animals from insects to large ungulates (hoofed animal). Depending on their range cougars will catch animals such as big-horned sheep, elk, deer, elk, moose, armadillos, capybaras as well as livestock. Studies of cougar hunting suggest they will kill a large ungulate about every two weeks. This increases to about once every three days when a mother has cubs. The cougar will drag the catch to it’s favoured spot where it is hidden and revisited it over several days to eat.
One of the two cougars at Toronto Zoo

Fortunately the cougar is considered of Least Concern on the IUCN endangered list. It is listed as CITES I forbidding the export of live animals or parts. Cougars are protected in Canada and much of South American however regulated hunting is still permitted in the USA.

Cougar Medicine
Due to it’s power and grace the cougar appears in mythology and beliefs throughout the Americas. The sky and thunder god of the Inca, Viracocha, is associated with the cougar. In North America, to the Apache and Walapai of Arizona, the wail of the cougar was a harbinger of death. You can hear the call in the video below. Amongst the Anishinaabe the cougar or puma clan was responsible for healing and protection of the people.

The cougar or mountain lion holds similar metaphysical traits to that of it’s larger counterpart on the plains of Africa, the African Lion. The cougar stands for leadership. Cougar encourages you to take leadership of your life and the situations you are in. Do not allow someone else to dictate your destiny. Like a mother cougar, you may have developing kits looking up to you. If so, you must protect and guide them to also be great leaders.

No comments: