It goes by many names -- puma, mountain lion -- but after being all but exterminated east of the Rockies, the great cat is slowly regaining lost ground, causing concern among biologists, wildlife officials, and ordinary citizens.
A century after becoming all but extinct east of the Rocky Mountains, cougars — also known as mountain lions, pumas, and panthers, among other names — are on the move, as evidenced by an increasing number of sightings in 11 Midwestern states as well as in Louisiana and Arkansas. They have reoccupied parts of the Dakotas and Nebraska, and the Florida panther population has grown more than five times in size since 1995. Cougar Network founder Mark Dowling says, “It used to be a rarity when a mountain lion showed up in Missouri. It’s almost routine now.”
What’s the Big Idea?
The growth of the cougar population in North America — estimates stand at about 30,000 — is considered one of the great successes of wildlife conservation. However, and not surprisingly, their arrival is a source of worry for many. Cougar Network researcher Clay Nielsen says, “A lot of state conservation agencies are looking into how to prepare for recolonization.” They may want to take advice from people like Wyoming cattle rancher Ogden Driskill, who says that, compared to wolves, “Cougar are easier to hunt and easier to control.”