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Landmark Focus: Mountain Lions

PictureMountain Lion spotted in Fremont Canyon

​Mountain lions are rarely seen by humans, but they loom large in the imagination of many outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not just their size – with healthy males weighing up to 220 pounds, they’re the second-largest big cat in the Americas. And it’s not just their incredible range – found from the Yukon to the very tip of South America, they are the widest-ranging terrestrial mammals in the Western Hemisphere. They are adaptive, making their home in a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to forests to wetlands. Their widespread presence means they are known by many names, such as puma, cougar, and catamount. Combine their size and range with their striking features and noted elusiveness and you’ve got a mysterious, majestic animal that inspires awe, despite the pains it takes to stay away from humans.

In fact, humans are far more of a threat to mountain lions than the other way around, which we’ll talk about more in part 2 of this series. Much more understandable is the fear mountain lions strike in deer, their primary prey, although they’ve been known to hunt other mammals if that’s what’s available. Mountain lions are highly solitary, and take alone time to extreme lengths, establishing their own vast territories that other mountain lions carefully avoid. Mountain lions can breed year-round, and females usually give birth every two years or so to a litter of one to six cubs. These cubs will stay with the mother between one and two years before moving out on their own. One of the first challenges a growing mountain lion faces in is finding its own piece of land to live and hunt on without infringing on other cats.

Mountain lions are special for many reasons, but the role they play in the health of their ecosystems is one of the most significant. They are high up on the food chain, but their role goes beyond controlling the local deer population. They are what’s known as an umbrella species, a species that is selected for making conservation-related decisions. Due to their solitary nature and territorial range, their survival relies on the preservation of large amounts of habitat. Preserving enough wilderness for mountain lions to thrive directly benefits other species in the area that share that habitat. When mountain lions are protected, other species are protected too.