Cougars

Evaluating Predation by Cougars
Cougars attempt to stalk their prey and attack from cover. They frequently kill sheep and goats by biting the top of the neck or head. Broken necks are common in these kills. This differs from the typical coyote bite in the throat and general mutilation caused by dogs. However, cougars also may kill sheep and goats by biting the throat. This may result from prey falling or being knocked down and caught, or it may simply be the method found effective by individual cougars and most convenient on some prey animals.

Cougar Predation – Description
Cougars attempt to stalk their prey and attack from cover. They frequently kill sheep and goats by biting the top of the neck or head. Broken necks are common in these kills. This differs from the typical coyote bite in the throat and general mutilation caused by dogs. However, cougars also may kill sheep and goats by biting the throat. This may result from prey falling or being knocked down and caught, or it may simply be the method found effective by individual cougars and most convenient on some prey animals. Cougars may kill by grasping the head of prey such as sheep, goats and deer and pulling the head until the neck is broken. Many of these may not have been bitten but die quickly. Cougars kill calves much like they do sheep and goats. Multiple kills of sheep and goats by cougars are common; cases of a hundred or more animals killed in a single incident have been recorded. As a rule, very few animals, often only one or two in such incidents, are fed upon by the cougar.

Cougars usually kill larger animals, such as deer, elk, horses and cattle, by leaping on their shoulders or back and biting the neck. Claw marks on the neck, back and shoulders are characteristic of these kills. The prey animal’s neck may be broken by bites or by the animal failing from the attack. There may also be bites in the throat of these larger prey. The size of the canine tooth punctures and the type of bone damage help distinguish cougar kills from those made by coyotes, dogs and foxes. An adult cougar’s upper canine teeth are approximately 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 inches apart; the lower teeth are approximately 3/8 to 1/2 inch closer together. A cougar’s teeth are massive compared to those of the average coyote or bobcat.

Except when prey is scarce, cougars do not normally feed on carrion other than their own kills or possibly those taken away from other predators. They usually carry or drag their kills to a secluded area under cover to feed and drag marks are frequently found at fresh kill sites. Cougars generally begin feeding on the viscera (liver, heart, lungs, etc.) through the abdomen or thorax but like other carnivores, individuals differ. Some begin feeding on the neck or shoulder while others prefer the hindquarters. Like other cats, cougars normally leave relatively clean-cut edges when they feed compared to the ragged edges of tissue and bone left by coyotes. They also may break large bones in feeding on domestic and wild animals.

Cougars frequently try to cover their kills with soil, vegetation (leaves, grass, limbs) or snow. They may eviscerate prey and cover the viscera separately from the rest of the carcass. Even where little debris is available, bits of soil, rock, grass or sticks may be found on the carcass. However, where multiple kills are made at one time, there may be no effort to cover more than one or two of them.

Cougar “scrapes” or “scratches”, composed of mounds of soil, grass, leaves, or snow, are probably a means of communication with other cougars. These scrapes are generally 6 to 8 inches high and urine is deposited on the mounds. Male cougars appear to make scrapes as territorial markers around their kills and near trails and deposit urine and feces on them; these markers may be considerably larger than others, up to 2 feet long, 12 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches high in some cases.

Cougar tracks are relatively round and rarely show any claw marks since the claws are normally retracted. Tracks of large adult males’ front feet may be 4 inches or more long and about the same or slightly less in width. The hind tracks are slightly smaller. The rear pads of the feet are distinctively different from those of other carnivores. Typically, there are two lobes in front and three on the rear of the rear pads although there are individual variations. With extensive experience, some hunters can recognize individual cougars by their tracks, even without distinctive features such as missing toes or other deformities.