Puma - Puma concolor

IUCN Red List status - Least Concern

The puma has the widest distribution of any cat species in the Americas and one of the widest of any mammal species here. It can be found from western areas of Canada all the way down to the south of Patagonia
(Argentina and Chile). The IUCN Red list status of Least Concern is based on this wide distribution.

The Red List status does not reflect that pumas are extinct across the eastern side of North America
(the US and Canada) and are classified as Endangered in Florida. The puma population in Florida has only 100 - 180 individuals, and the species is known here as Florida Panther.

Based on genetic analysis there are 6 different subspecies identified, which can be associated with geographical regions:
  • Puma concolor cougar - North America
  • Puma concolor costaricensis - Central America
  • Puma concolor capricornensis - eastern South America
  • Puma concolor concolor - northern South America
  • Puma concolor cabrerae - central South America
  • Puma concolor puma - southern South America
Unrelated to the above-mentioned species classification, pumas are know under different names in different regions. Besides the Florida Panther the Puma is called Cougar in Canada, generally Mountain Lion in the US and mainly Puma across Central and South America. And there are many other names for this species across its range.

Pumas are very adaptable and can be found in different type of habitats. They appear to prefer dense vegetation areas, but can be also found in lowland and montane deserts. In the Andes they are found in altitudes up to 5,800 metres
(in southern parts of Peru).

The home range size and the population density of pumas depends like with all carnivore species on prey availability. The pumas' diet consists mainly of small and medium size animals, but include also larger species. In North America deer makes up 60-80% of the pumas' diet, though they may go for smaller prey like ferral pigs, racoons and armadillos in areas, where deer numbers are low
(e.g. in Florida).

The last census of Pumas appears to go back to the 1990s, and this provided only rough numbers. The estimate for Canada is 3,500 - 5,000 pumas and for the Western side of the US it is ~10,000. It is assumed that the numbers for populations in Central and South America are much higher, though there are regional variations. The highest population densities are, according to the IUCN
(International Union for Conservation of Nature) in Bolivia (5-8 per 100 square kilometres), Patagonia (6 per 100 square kilometres) and the Pantanals (4.4 per 100 square kilometres).

Pumas may occur in areas, where jaguars live, though this does not appear to apply to all areas where the home range of these two cat species overlap. Variation in this respect may be again link to prey availability as if there is plenty of food there will be less competition.

Pumas are, like many carnivore and other wildlife species threatened by shrinking and fragmenting habitat areas, which in turn leads to an increased human/wildlife conflict and the killing of the cats in retaliation for livestock kill and also in fear of pumas attacking people. Pumas have attacked and even killed people in Canada and also in western states of the US. Attacks are probably due to pumas running out of habitat and prey, and people venturing into natural habitat areas without being aware that they are in a home range of a puma
(jogging in an area where a puma lives is not a wise move). In Canada, where I have learnt about various attacks by pumas, authorities provide advice to people on how to avoid attacks or loosing their pets and livestock.

Another threat to pumas is that they are killed on roads by passing trucks and cars. Road kills pose a threat in particular to the smaller puma population in Florida.

Pumas are allowed to be hunted in many western US states, though it was banned by referendum in California. Hunting is as well prohibited in most other countries across the puma range, though it is still done illegally. Poaching is another contributing factor to the declining puma population.

Pumas may vary slightly in colour across the different habitat areas throughout their range, but they are generally of a greyish or light brown colour. Like lions pumas are born with spots, which they will lose when they are about 6 months old. Their size may also vary depending on region and habitat, but generally they are often compared in this respect to leopards.

The details about pumas were sourced from the IUCN web page and information, gained during my visits to Canada and Argentina.