A cougar, or Puma concolor, is a type of wild cat which once lived throughout the Americas. It has a number of regional common names, including puma and mountain lion, and it is considered to the largest of the small cats. Despite the formidable size of the cougar, it is classified as a small cat because it cannot roar, distinguishing it from big cats like lions and tigers. The majestic and graceful animals were hunted almost to extinction in the twentieth century, but concentrated efforts by conservationists have kept the species alive.
An adult male cougar can reach a weight of 220 pounds (100 kilograms), and has an extremely muscular body with a long tail used for balance. The coat of a cougar ranges in color from reddish brown to buff, and the cats also have dark facial markings. They are known for being extremely secretive and solitary animals, and it is highly unusual to see a cougar in the wild, as they prefer remote wilderness areas.
The diet of a cougar includes large mammals such as deer, along with smaller animals and insects. The cats typically cache their kill, meaning that they bury it so that they can return later. Ecologically, the cougar plays an important role, because it keeps the prey population small and healthy. Cougars typically single out injured or older animals for hunting, leaving healthy young animals to reproduce. In areas where cougars were heavily hunted, an explosion in the prey population resulted, causing environmental problems.
Because cougars are solitary and require a wide range, they have clashed with humans. Accelerating development of wilderness areas has led to serious pressure on cougars, as they find their natural habitat slowly taken over by humans. As a result, cougars sometimes attack domestic animals or humans for food. This results in a conflict, and usually ended in the death of the cougar until concerns were raised about hunting the animals to extinction. This had already happened in the Northeast, where cougars became extremely rare after a campaign to eradicate them. In the West, programs to implement measures such as trapping and relocation arose, so that the cougar would not disappear entirely from the American landscape.
There are many subspecies of cougar, although the exact number is a subject of debate, as many so-called subspecies are too genetically similar to be separated. The cats can be found in the Western United States and parts of South America in the wild as well as in captivity. Growing awareness about the value of the cougar has led to the establishment of wilderness areas for the cougar, and the cats appear to be making a comeback.