Mountain Lion


mountain lion

The mountain lion (Puma concolor), also known as the cougar, ranks among the most elusive and discussed of all of Oklahoma’s wildlife species.

The mountain lion can be identified by several distinguishing characteristics. Its tail is more than half the length of the body, it has black tips on the tail and ears, and is primarily tan in color. The size of these animals varies by sex. Males average seven feet long (from nose to the tip of its tail) and weigh around 140 pounds, while females average six feet in length with a body weight around 95 pounds.

Sightings and evidence of cougars have been documented back to 1852, where two cougars were killed in southwest Oklahoma. Accounts continued into 1953 when an Oklahoma State University mammalogist documented tracks of a mountain lion southeast of Canton Lake in northwest Oklahoma. Further reportings continued into September of 1984, where the refuge manager observed a mountain lion on the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. The best habitat and area for current day sightings pertaining to the cougar could be the Rolling Red Plains ecoregion, located in far western Oklahoma. This region is made up of 60 percent rangeland (large blocks of private land holdings with a low human population density), ideal for mountain lion habitat. They may move into and out of the state along major waterways from New Mexico, Colorado, and the Texas panhandle. Cougars may even have home ranges that cover 200 square miles, and most wild cougars entering Oklahoma are young males searching out new territories.

Mountain lions are most active at night and may travel as far as 25 miles in a single night in search of deer (both whitetail and mule deer), the principal prey species for the mountain lion. The cougar generally hunts at dawn or dusk, but can be active during the day in areas undisturbed by man. An entire deer can be consumed in two nights. Mountain lions kill large prey species with regularity, usually one deer-sized animal is killed every six to 12 days. Mountain lions will almost always attempt to cover the uneaten portion of a kill with leaves or other debris.

The mountain lion can give birth at any time during the year, but the female only produce a litter once every two years, with summer being the peak time for kitten births. Once the male breeds the female, he leaves and the female is left to raise the young on her own. Her young usually consist of a litter of three to four kittens. These kittens are born blind, open their eyes at two weeks, and at six weeks the kittens are ready to eat meat. The young hunt for themselves at nine months and leave the mother after approximately 15 to 22 months. Juvenile males tend to disperse long distances as opposed to female juveniles who have short dispersal patterns. Mountain lions can reach life spans upwards of 18 years of age.

In 1957, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation listed the mountain lion as a game species with a closed season. Agency personnel have not conducted population surveys or assessed habitat availability, making it impossible to issue clear statements about the abundance of wild mountain lions. One thing is certain, despite many rumors and claims to the contrary, ODWC has never stocked, relocated or released any mountain lions in the state of Oklahoma. Furthermore the agency has no plans to do so.