Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Cougar: Ecology & Conservation
  • Alternative view 1 of Cougar: Ecology & Conservation
  • Alternative view 2 of Cougar: Ecology & Conservation

Cougar: Ecology & Conservation

4.8 5
by Maurice Hornocker

See All Formats & Editions

The cougar is one of the most beautiful, enigmatic, and majestic animals in the Americas. Eliciting reverence for its grace and independent nature, it also triggers fear when it comes into contact with people, pets, and livestock or competes for hunters’ game. Mystery, myth, and misunderstanding surround this remarkable creature.

The cougar’s range


The cougar is one of the most beautiful, enigmatic, and majestic animals in the Americas. Eliciting reverence for its grace and independent nature, it also triggers fear when it comes into contact with people, pets, and livestock or competes for hunters’ game. Mystery, myth, and misunderstanding surround this remarkable creature.

The cougar’s range once extended from northern Canada to the tip of South America, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic, making it the most widespread animal in the western hemisphere. But overhunting and loss of habitat vastly reduced cougar numbers by the early twentieth century across much of its historical range, and today the cougar faces numerous threats as burgeoning human development encroaches on its remaining habitat.

When Maurice Hornocker began the first long-term study of cougars in the Idaho wilderness in 1964, little was known about this large cat. Its secretive nature and rarity in the landscape made it difficult to study. But his groundbreaking research yielded major insights and was the prelude to further research on this controversial species.

The capstone to Hornocker’s long career studying big cats, Cougar is a powerful and practical resource for scientists, conservationists, and anyone with an interest in large carnivores.  He and conservationist Sharon Negri bring together the diverse perspectives of twenty-two distinguished scientists to provide the fullest account of the cougar’s ecology, behavior, and genetics, its role as a top predator, and its conservation needs. This compilation of recent findings, stunning photographs, and firsthand accounts of field research unravels the mysteries of this magnificent animal and emphasizes its importance in healthy ecosystem processes and in our lives.

Editorial Reviews

Peter Matthiessen

Cougar is a mighty compendium by twenty-two cougar authorities who share considerable first-hand experience in the field. A very important contribution, this book will surely takes its place as the definitive work on this fascinating, beautiful, and ever elusive animal.”—Peter Matthiessen

Jim Williams
“No one is more qualified than Dr. Maurice Hornocker to produce the world’s most complete book on cougar ecology and management. Ranchers, wildlife managers, citizen advocates and animal lovers will all enjoy this magical tour through the mysterious world of the cougar.”—Jim Williams Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wildlife Program Manager and current Vice President of the Wild Felid Research and Management Association

Luke Hunter
Cougar is an encyclopedic tribute to the resilience of the American lion and the scientists who devote their careers to understanding it. Written by a blue-ribbon lineup of cougar experts, this is the most exhaustive and accessible overview of the species ever produced—it goes from showing how cougars eke out an existence in the remote Southern Andes to revealing the challenges they face negotiating superhighways in urban California and Florida. Suffering intense persecution across much of Latin America yet recovering and recolonizing former range in the United States, the adaptable cougar is a model for shaping a human future that includes large cats. Cougar is both timely warning and guidebook for what it will take to realize that vision. It will be a long time before there is anything more complete on the bookshelves.”— Luke Hunter, Executive Director, Panthera

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.60(w) x 11.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


Ecology and Conservation

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2010 Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-35344-9

Chapter One

To Save a Mountain Lion: Evolving Philosophy of Nature and Cougars

R. Bruce Gill

No one knows the specifics of the first encounter between humans and cougars, but it could easily have gone this way: The air was cold and sharp on a bright autumn morning, perhaps in Alberta, likely some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. A herd of deer grazed unconcerned and unaware that two starkly different predators stalked them from opposite directions. From the south, a large, sleek, strong, stealthy cat crept slowly and deliberately, employing every bit of available cover. From the north, a group of two-legged predators cautiously positioned themselves among boulders adjacent to the travel path of the deer. Compared to the cat, the two-legged hunters were slow and clumsy; armed with atlatls, stone axes, knives, and extraordinary intelligence and cooperation, however, they were the equal of any prey or predator (Merchant 2002).

The deer wandered to within ten meters of the humans, who patiently waited for the opportune moment to strike. Meanwhile, the cougar had approached to within twenty meters and, with tail twitching, waited like the humans until all the deer were feeding. Then both predators struck simultaneously. The lead human arose quickly and launched a spear at the nearest deer. The cat leaped, covering ten meters in the first bound. Both struck their prey with deadly force, immediately discovering the competition. At that moment, the first human immigrants to America met their most widespread predator (Young and Goldman 1946a). With that first encounter, a philosophical relationship was inaugurated that would vacillate between reverence and warfare.

First Philosophy

The beliefs and attitudes that the first immigrants brought with them to the New World are not known because no historical records exist. But one has only to view the cave-art paintings of their Western European contemporaries in Lascaux, France, for a sense of the force that large animals and awe of the natural environment exerted in their art and religion (Bataille 1955; Hadingham 1979). Petroglyphs in North America provide us with a similar window on early worldviews (Figure 1.1).

Spiritualism and Connectedness

European immigrants arriving in North America in the sixteenth century encountered stories, legends, myths, and ceremonies of the Native Americans that revealed much about the natural philosophies of the natives' earliest ancestors. Among these early people, all experiences with nature were embedded in a metaphysical dimension. Their theology of nature was both physical and spiritual. They considered themselves as but one part of nature rather than apart from it, as later immigrants would believe (Hughes 1996).

All things, both animate and inanimate, were possessed of a spirit, and all spirits were interconnected. Individual spirits emanated from the Great Spirit, who was the creator of the universe and greater in both power and influence than the sum of the individual spirits (Brown 1997; Kracht 2000). The Lakota Sioux holy man John Lame Deer explained the concept this way:

Nothing is so small and unimportant but it has a spirit given it by Wakan Tanka. Tunkan is what you might call a stone god, but he is also a part of the Great Spirit. The gods are separate beings, but they are all united in Wakan Tanka. It is hard to understand—something like the Holy Trinity. You can't explain it except by going back to the circles within circles idea, the spirit splitting itself up into stones, trees, tiny insects even, making them all wakan his ever presence. And in turn all these myriad of things which makes up the universe fl owing back to their source, united in one Grandfather Spirit. (Erdoes 1976, 102–3)

Spirits could be beneficial or detrimental, depending upon circumstances. Balance within the spirit world, therefore, was critical because spiritual harmony was necessary for the survival of all life. To maintain this spiritual balance, Native Americans developed elaborate ceremonies of prayer and sacrifice to placate the spirits of those others who were necessarily taken to sustain their own. Pre-Columbian Americans also believed that spiritual power was hierarchical, with the sun possessing more power than the earth and the eagle being stronger than the buffalo (Boas 1930).

Philosophical Pillars

The Native American understanding of nature rested on four broad pillars. First, all was sacred and everything in nature was inherently spiritual. Second, all was interrelated and one could not act upon one element of the environment without affecting all others. Third, all elements of creation shared a spiritual kinship with Mother Earth. Native Americans regarded themselves as part of the land, not apart from it. Fourth, people were obliged spiritually and ethically to respect Mother Earth and her inhabitants. They had to act righteously to preserve and maintain the complex physical and spiritual balance of nature (Calicott 1982; Booth and Harvey 1990; Jostad et al. 1996).

A Predator's Place

As a result of their reverence for nature, Indians espoused a conservation philosophy consisting of two simple tenets: take only what you need and use all of what you take. They enforced this through customs and taboos that functioned like modern game laws. The Utes would not kill the gray jay because they believed the bird's raucous call helped hunters detect predators. The Gosiutes of Nevada had a custom of waiting twelve years between antelope drives to allow the herds to replenish. Although members of several tribes hunted predators to inherit their power, no predator was hunted with the intent to exterminate the entire species (Kracht 2000).

Since predators possessed more power than their prey, frequently they were invoked as spiritual guardians to ward off enemies, sickness, and disaster (Hultkrantz 1981; Hughes 1996). Several tribes, particularly those of the southwestern United States, regarded the cougar as an icon of power, protection, and friendship. The cougar was regarded so reverently by some native peoples in southern California that even in modern times some refused to kill the cats even to protect livestock from depredations (Tinsley 1987; Bolgiano 2001).

Although reverence for the cougar was virtually universal among Native Americans, the ceremonial specifics varied. Pueblo people accorded the cougar the top of the hierarchy of the beast gods. Because it was such a superb hunter, it possessed great power and was a patron deity of hunters and warriors (Saunders 1998). Early Pueblos carved two elaborate stone lion statues (Figure 1.2) at the Cochiti Pueblo to invoke the cougar spirit's hunting prowess (Saunders 1998). Among the Zunis, the cougar was considered the master of all prey gods. Prey gods guarded the Zunis from threats to the north, south, east, and west, as well as from the earth and sky. The cougar guarded the north god, a direction of great spiritual significance (Cushing 1883). The Navaho celebrated the cougar way of hunting in their rituals. Cougars were believed to possess powers that greatly augmented success among Navaho hunters.

The Cheyenne tell a traditional story of a woman who had lost her child. While mourning, she wandered into the woods and came across a den of motherless cougar kittens. She nursed the kittens until they could survive on their own. In gratitude, they returned the favor by bringing her a share of their kills. From this legend came the belief that the cougar was both provider and friend (Seger 1905).

Despite its strong spiritual context, the relationship between early Americans and cougars was not entirely peaceful; occasionally, it was also lethal (Bolgiano 2001). Cougars killed humans for food and in self-defense. Their method was simple, consistent, and effective: stalk, wait, and ambush. Humans killed cougars for protection and to gain the power that could only be obtained by killing one. The methods people used to capture and kill cougars were diverse, ingenious, and deadly. The Incas, for example, conducted circular drives in which as many as 30,000 individuals formed a large circle several miles in diameter. Gradually, they closed the circle, working steadily inward. All predators thus encircled were killed (Young and Goldman 1946a).

Central American natives waited in ambush at night for cougars that they attracted with instruments made from hollowed bone or branches. The instruments imitated the calls of distressed prey of jaguars—the original "varmint calls" (Tinsley 1987). Some South American Indians used bolas, a three-strand throwing device tipped with weighted balls (Figure 1.3). When successfully cast, it entangled the limbs of a cougar and immobilized the animal. Regardless of how cougars were killed, they were taken ceremoniously with great deference and reverence so that the cougar's spirit would reciprocate by empowering and protecting the bearer of its icons (Saunders 1998). But the world of the cougar changed dramatically when European immigrants began to invade America beginning in the fifteenth century.

Feckless Philosophy

The second wave of Americans brought a new religion based upon homocentric ideas of dominion and private property ownership. The perspective of these immigrants was feckless compared to the reverential attitude of their predecessors. The new arrivals brought domesticated animals and food plants to lessen their dependence upon nature. Both their religious and natural philosophies taught them they had the right to use, alter, or destroy anything in nature that impeded progress. Likewise, anything that satisfied their amusements was fair game (Kline 1997). The entire belief and value structure of the new settlers was decidedly antinature.


The colonists saturated their views of nature with intense moral connotations that assigned natural objects to the absolute ethical categories of good or bad (Kleese 2002). Wilderness was considered bad for several reasons. It was feared because it was populated by strange, wild predators that preyed upon domestic livestock and, occasionally, humans. Wilderness was inconvenient because it obstructed travel and the expansion of agriculture; forests quickly reinvaded clearings unless vigorously and regularly removed. Wild places were considered untidy because they were not well kept like the manicured landscapes of Europe. So the colonists attacked wilderness with both vengeance and evangelism (Davis 1996; Kleese 2002; D. Foster et al. 2004). Their perspective toward nature was born not only from greed, arrogance, and ignorance but also from the considerable grief and agony the wilderness caused them (Taylor 1995). Conquering the wilderness, including the cougar, was as much about security as it was about dominance.

First to fall were the old-growth forests of the East. Prior to sixteenth-century colonization, old-growth forests occupied as much as 950 million acres of land (Davis 1996). Under the onslaught of saw, axe, and plow, deforestation occurred so rapidly that, by 1800, residents of New York fretted about a fuel wood shortage in the Hudson River valley (Taylor 1995). By the mid-1800s, from 50 to 75 percent of the eastern landscape consisted of open agricultural land, exceeding 90 percent in some locales (Foster et al. 2004).

As forests gave way to farm lots, wildlife dwindled in response partly to vanishing habitat and partly to direct slaughter from shooting, trapping, and poisoning. Of the forest animals, predators, including cougars, were singularly despised (Kleese 2002). Faced with rampant habitat loss and unrestricted hunting, white-tailed deer numbers plummeted. So rapidly did deer populations decline that hunting seasons were closed as early as 1639. Nonetheless, over most of the eastern range of the white-tailed deer, market hunting continued relentlessly and between 1755 and 1773 accounted for the exportation of 600,000 deer hides from Savannah, Georgia, alone (Demarais et al. 2002).

As populations of deer and other prey species began to decline, cougar populations also began to wane. Human persecution, however, was the final nail in the eastern cougar's coffin. Throughout the eastern United States, every settler owned a gun and every predator was a target. Opportunistic killing alone probably would not have doomed the cougar. But when bounties were established, a cadre of professional killers emerged who specialized in predator hunting. Some made their entire living from bounties collected by killing predators. The bounty hunters used diverse methods to kill their quarry. Pit traps, steel traps, guns, and poisons all were employed with varying success (Young and Goldman 1946a).

Encircling drives were adapted from the Amerindians and were employed frequently by communities throughout the East to rid areas of vermin. Approximately two hundred individuals would form a large circle up to thirty miles in diameter and gradually close it inward, using guns, bells, dogs, fires, and other disturbances to drive animals inward. On one particular drive, 41 cougars, 109 wolves, 112 foxes, 114 "mountain cats" (lynx and bobcats), 17 black bears, 12 wolverines, 3 fishers, an otter, and a grizzly bear were dispatched (Danz 1999). By the mid- to late 1800s, the combination of habitat loss, prey depletion, and dogged human persecution had taken its toll. Cougars were exterminated from areas east of the Mississippi River except for small, isolated remnant populations in Florida and, perhaps, Louisiana (Cardoza and Langlois 2002).


As civilization expanded westward, so did the carnage. The plight of cougars and other carnivores was dictated by a sequence of events. First, as the European immigrants expanded westward, they clashed increasingly and violently with the American Indians. As these clashes increased in frequency and violence, white settlers urged the U.S. Army to confine Native Americans to reservations. After Colonel George A. Custer's death in 1876 at the Little Bighorn River in Montana, demands to confine Native Americans to reservations rose to a clamorous din (M. Wilson 2002). A strategy was developed to hasten their confinement. One part of the strategy called for the elimination of the bison to make the native tribes dependent upon beef provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Market hunters, already bountifully engaged in provisioning settlers and railroad workers with meat, were encouraged to slaughter bison without restraint. They killed bison by the tens of thousands, often taking only hides; additional thousands were killed by sport hunters. In less than one hundred years, bison declined from millions to near extinction (Garreston 1938; Haines 1970).

The demise of the bison affected large predators in at least three significant ways. First, it greatly reduced the number of available prey, thus reducing predator numbers and forcing survivors to find alternative prey. Second, it left a vacant niche that was almost immediately filled with rangeland livestock, bringing large predators into direct conflict with human commerce. Third, it increased both predator depredations on domestic livestock, especially by wolves, and the scope and intensity of government predator control programs.

Loss of the bison probably did not greatly affect cougars directly. They were distributed only sparsely throughout the Great Plains, primarily inhabiting the wooded stream bottoms and brushy feeder gullies (Young and Goldman 1946a). It was a nexus of events, including the discovery of gold and other precious minerals in the West, the growth of the western market hunting industry, the completion of the transcontinental railway, and the arrival of rangeland livestock that put western cougars and man on a collision path (Trefethen 1975; Robinson 2005).


Excerpted from Cougar Copyright © 2010 by Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Maurice Hornocker is director of the Selway Institute. Sharon Negri is the director and founder of WildFutures.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Cougar: Ecology & Conservation 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
jsphtnnr3920152 More than 1 year ago
joet37382013 More than 1 year ago
I Would To Own A Copy Of This Book On The American Cougar, Otherwise Known As Mountain Lion, Panther, Or Puma
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the book for you. The editor caps off a long career as a mountain lion researcher by compiling an updated status of the Puma throughout it's vast range. I was pleased to see that Dr. Hornocker was able to assemble the very best folks to write chapters on either various aspects of the Puma biology or a review of a particular part of the Mountain Lions range. It was very gratifying to see researchers from South America write on the Mountain Lion. A center section of color photographs lends much to the overall quality of this book. I commend the publisher - University of Chicago Press for being able to produce such a detailed work to include color photos at such a reasonable price. This book will be useful to professional biologists, wildlife managers, and environmental educators looking to talk about lion biology. For everyday folks wanting a honest assessment of the Mountain Lion without hype then there is no better book.