The Cat That Conquered The West

Noah Sudarsky describes the mountain lion as “something of a wildlife success story”:

It is the most widespread large carnivore in the Americas, managing to survive even as other predators have nearly perished. The wolf was hunted to the brink of extinction, and has been able to make a shaky comeback thanks only to expensive and difficult reintroduction programs. The grizzly, once found on the shores of San Francisco Bay, remains only in the Northern Rockies and Alaska, ecosystems large enough to accommodate its need for large, open spaces. The coyote, famously, is one predator that has seen an actual gain in numbers since European colonization (thanks mostly to the disappearance of other carnivores). But the coyote’s success – like that of, say, the crow and the raccoon – is due in large part to the animal’s ability to accommodate itself to human development. In contrast, the cougar remains as cagey as ever.

Cougars are, above all, solitary, connecting with other cougars only to mate. Since it is effectively invisible, this enigmatic species doesn’t enjoy (or suffer) the kind of cult of personality that surrounds the grizzly and the wolf. A cougar sticks to the shadows, and that instinct helps explain its enduring success, a success that seems all the more remarkable given the odds stacked against it. And the odds are staggering.