Mountain Lions (Cougars)

Mountain Lions (Cougars) Information We Should Know

The cougar is an iconic species of the American West and has been an integral component of the North American landscape for at least 10,000 years.

Status of Cougars in Washington State

In Washington State, cougars can be found throughout most of the forested areas of the state. The only habitats from which they are absent are on the islands of Puget Sound and in the Columbia basin country.  According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), about 80,000 km2 or roughly 46% of the land area of the state is cougar habitat. 

Sleek and graceful, cougars (Puma concolor) are solitary and secretive animals rarely seen in the wild. Also known as mountain lions or pumas, cougars are known for their strength, agility, and awesome ability to jump. Their exceptionally powerful legs enable them to leap 30 feet from a standstill, or to jump 15 feet straight up a cliff wall. Cougars use their paws and claws to trip prey (i.e. a swat to the rear legs) or grab it with their claws, then use their claws to hold their prey while delivering the kill-bite. A cougar’s strength and powerful jaws allow it to take down and drag prey larger than itself. 

Cougars are the largest members of the cat family in North America. Adult males average approximately 140 pounds but in a perfect situation may weigh 180 pounds and measure 7-8 feet long from nose to tip of tail. Adult males stand about 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Adult female cougars average about 25 percent smaller than males. Cougars vary in color from reddish-brown to tawny (deerlike) to gray, with a black tip on their long tail.

Cougars occur throughout Washington where suitable cover and prey are found. The cougar population for the year 2008 was estimated to be 2000 to 2,500 animals. The cougar population in eastern Washington is declining and the westside population is stable. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has nine management zones around the state designated for "maintain" or "decline," and adjusts harvest levels accordingly.

Wildlife offices throughout the state receive hundreds of calls a year regarding sightings, attacks on livestock and pets, and cougar/human confrontations. Our increasing human populations and decreasing cougar habitat may create more opportunities for such encounters.

Habitat and Home Range

  • Cougars use steep canyons, rock outcroppings and boulders, or vegetation, such as dense brush and forests, to remain hidden while hunting.
  • Adult male cougars roam widely, covering a home range of 50 to 150 square miles, depending on the age of the cougar, the time of year, type of terrain, and availability of prey.
  • Adult male cougars’ home ranges will often overlap those of three or four females.
  • Female home ranges are about half that of males and there in considerable overlap in female home ranges.
  • Often female progeny will establish a territory adjacent to mother, while virtually all males disperse considerable distances from the natal area.

Cougars and Kids

Children seem to be more at risk than adults to cougar attacks, possibly because their high-pitched voices, small size, and erratic movements make it difficult for cougars to identify them as human and not prey. To prevent a problem from occurring:

  • Talk to children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar.
  • Encourage children to play outdoors in groups, and supervise children playing outdoors.
  • Consider getting a dog for your children as an early-warning system. A dog can see, smell, and hear a cougar sooner than we can. Although dogs offer little value as a deterrent to cougars, they may distract a cougar from attacking a human.
  • Consider erecting a fence around play areas.
  • Keep a radio playing when children are outside, as noise usually deters cougars.
  • Make sure children are home before dusk and stay inside until after dawn.
  • If there have been cougar sightings, escort children to the bus stop in the early morning. Clear shrubs away around the bus stop, making an area with a 30-foot radius. Have a light installed as a general safety precaution.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife responds to bear and cougar  sightings when there is a threat to public safety or property.  If it is an emergency,  dial 911.

If you encounter a bear or cougar problem, and it is not an emergency, contact the nearest  Department of Fish and Wildlife office between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. In King County, the number to call is (425)775-1311.

Source: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife | Learn more about bears