Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description: This large carnivore measures 72-90 inches (183-229 cm) in length, including the tail. The black-tipped tail is about1/3 of the total length of the animal. Males weigh 140-160 pounds (63-73 kg). Females are smaller, weighing 90-110 pounds (41-50 kg). Characteristics of the mountain lion include a pale brown back with a white underside, pale chin and chest and black-tipped ears. Kittens have spotted fur. Signs of mountain lions include: scratches high on trees; food caches where kill remains are concealed by brush; large, covered droppings with nearby scratch marks; tracks with lobed heel pad in front and rear and signs of a tail drag between footprints in snow. The mountain lion's call sounds like a large housecat.
Habitat and Habits: Mountain lions are usually found in mountainous habitat or remote undisturbed areas. This species may be found in swamps, riparian woodlands or broken country with good cover of brush or woodland. It is primarily a solitary animal except during brief courtship periods. Territorial fights occur between males and between females with young.
Females may have their first litter at less than 2 years of age, although most reach sexual maturity at 2.5 years. Gestation lasts from 90-96 days, with 1-6 kittens born per litter. Den sites are usually well-concealed in a dense thicket, uprooted tree or rocky depression.
The mountain lion is active throughout the year and the day, but does most of its hunting at dawn and dusk. Females may range in a 15-30 square mile (40-80 km2) area. A male's activity area may be 25-35 square miles (65-90 km2). Overall, mule deer are the most important food item, but mountain lions will take a variety of large and small mammals (including squirrel, rabbit, mice, porcupine, skunk, raccoon, fox, badger, elk, livestock), insects, reptiles and some vegetation.
Distribution: Historically, the mountain lion had the widest distribution of any native American mammal, from British Columbia south to Argentina, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. The mountain lion is currently restricted primarily to mountainous, unpopulated areas. In South Dakota, it is largely limited to the Black Hills and Badlands with reports from Custer, Fall River, Jackson, Lawrence, Meade, Pennington, Shannon and Walworth Counties.
Conservation Measures: As with all large predators, the mountain lion, also called the cougar or puma, elicits a variety of attitudes. It is admired as a wilderness symbol by some and despised or feared as a livestock-killer and threat to humans by others. The future of the mountain lion depends upon an appreciation and understanding of its role in the natural world so that a balance is achieved between the desired population and the habitat needed to support it.