Due to European settlers exterminating nearly all of North America’s large carnivore (wolves, bears, lions) population, pumas do not inhabit the landscape like they once did a few hundred years ago. However, their population is on the rebound, and they have been expanding their distribution eastward as many western state populations are booming. While it is very unlikely you’ll ever see a puma, they are solitary cats who move around mostly at night after all, sightings do occur. If you’re lucky enough to see a puma on your trail, camera, or with your own eyes, you’ll definitely have a story to share for the rest of your life. However, more often than not, common bobcats, house cats, and even dogs are confused as pumas. Additionally, I’ve heard countless stories of people coming across a black panther. There has never been a documented black mountain lion in recorded history. Chances are what was seen was a bobcat, house cat, dog, or maybe even a black bear. I feel like black panthers are equivalent to bigfoot, there have been many “sightings” but zero scientific evidence.
Lastly, looking for pugmarks (animal footprints) is a fun pastime but can be confusing. I could talk about identifying animal tracks all day, but for the sake of reading time I’ll get to the point: the easiest way to tell the difference between a cat and a dog print is to look for lobes and claws. The number of lobes found on the bottom side of the paw pad is very revealing: dogs have two, so the lobes make the paw pad look like an upside-down heart (because man’s best friend, aww), while cats have three lobes. Additionally, dogs have their claws out 24/7/365 while cats are able to retract their claws. If you see claw marks with your pugmark, very likely it’s not a cat. Also note the size, if it’s a cat print but it’s small….most likely not going to be a mountain lion.
Time to wrap this blog up, but if you’d like more information, click on the links below:
Black Panthers: Cats of Mistaken Identity (via eMammal)
How to identify cougar, coyote, and bobcat tracks (via Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
Lessons from Cat Country (read about my job working with mountain lions! Via Nebraska Game and Parks Commission)
Mountain lion kitten video taken in the Pine Ridge (via Nebraska Game and Parks Commission):