(Felis concolor cougar)
STATUS: Endangered throughout its range, Federal Register, June 4, 1973
DESCRIPTION: The eastern cougar is described as a large, unspotted, long-tailed cat. Its body and legs are a uniform fulvous or tawny hue. Its belly is pale reddish or reddish white. The inside of this cat's ears are light-colored, with blackish color behind the ears. Sometimes the cougar's face has a uniformly lighter tint than the general hue of the body (De Kay 1842). Cougars feed primarily on deer, but their diet may also include small mammals, wild turkeys, and occasionally domestic livestock, when available.
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Observations of the western subspecies suggest that cougars begin breeding when 2 or 3 years old and breed thereafter once every 2 to 3 years. Whether or not there is a definite breeding season is a matter of contention. Courtship is initiated by the female and generally includes mating with a number of males. Spotted kittens weighing 8 to 16 ounces are born after a gestation period of about 3 months. Litter size is usually three. The kittens attain a weight of approximately 1O pounds in 8 weeks, and may weigh 3O to 45 pounds at 6 months. By the time they are yearlings they may weigh 6O to 9O pounds.
RANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL: Historic records indicate that the eastern cougar once occurred from eastern Canada southward into Tennessee and South Carolina, where its range merged with that of the Florida panther (F. c. coryi). Present United States distribution is limited to only a few scattered areas at best. Recently there have been some sightings reported in Minnesota and Michigan. These individuals are believed to have originated from around New Brunswick or Manatoba, Canada (Bob Downing, personal communication 1991). In the Southeast Region, there have been a number of sightings, but the best evidence for a small permanent population has come from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park Region. Based on a National Park Service study that included both sighting reports and field observations, there were an estimated three to six cougars living in the park in 1975. Sightings have also be reported in three other North Carolina areas including the Nantahala National Forest, the northern portion of the Uwharrie National Forest, and the State's southeastern counties. The remaining population of this species is extremely small; exact numbers are unknown.
HABITAT: No preference for specific habitat types has been noted. The primary need is apparently for a large wilderness area with an adequate food supply. Male cougars of other subspecies have been observed to occupy a range of 25 or more square miles, and females from 5 to 2O square miles.
REASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS: The eastern cougar has been hunted and trapped relentlessly as a pest. Much of its habitat has been eliminated through extensive deforestation, and its primary prey, the white-tailed deer, has suffered significant population and range reductions.
MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: The Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service jointly completed a 5-year survey in an attempt to determine the presence of self-sustaining cougar populations in the southern Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to Northern Georgia. The primary survey method was to search for cougar tracks in the snow, especially in remote areas such as closed sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Other utilized techniques were scent stations using cougar urine, catnip, or other scents, and recorded sounds such as cougar screams, predator calls, and deer bleats. Although many promising leads were pursued, no concrete evidence was ever obtained for the existence of eastern cougar populations.
One of the more promising ways to positively determine if cougars are present is to collect and analyze scats (fecal droppings). A technique has been developed at Mississippi State University for identifying predator scats by thin layer and gas chromatography analysis of the various bile acids they contain.
Culbertson, Nicole, 1977. Status and History of the Mountain Lion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Manage. Rep. No. 3, National Park Service, Gatlinberg, Tennessee. 7O pp.
DeKay, James E. 1842. Zoology of New York, or the New York Fauna. Albany, 146 pp.
Downing, R. L. Eastern Cougar Newsletter. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clemson, S.C. January, 7 pp.
U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1975. Endangered, Threatened, and Unique Mammals of the Southern Natural Forests. U.S. Forest Service, Atlanta, Georgia. 121 pp.
U.S. Department of the Interior. 1973. Threatened Wildlife of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. 289 pp.
**U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1982. Eastern Cougar Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, Georgia. 17 pp.
For more information please contact:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
33O Ridgefield Court
Asheville, North Carolina 288O6
Telephone: (828) 258-3939