Puma is the scientific genus name for a grouping of cats that have a larger size but are still more closely related to smaller, household type cats. They belong to the subfamily Felinae because they cannot roar as their counterparts in size such as tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars -- members of the subfamily Pantherinae can. Early taxonomy history listed 32 Puma subspecies but recent DNA testing has limited that to fewer than ten.
North American Cougar
He's often called a mountain lion -- a name that stuck after 16th century Spanish explorers first encountering this big cat named him gato monte or cat of the mountain. His habitat once stretched clear across North America, but is now limited to western portions of Canada and the United States. Males weigh anywhere from 150 to 225 pounds; females slightly smaller at 80 to 130 pounds. Aside from breeding and raising young, these cats live a solitary life avoiding contact with each other if possible. They have a solid light brown coat and highly-muscled bodies. They can jump as far as 20 feet in a single bound and hunt by ambush on their prey.
This big cat technically is a subspecies of the North American Cougar or mountain lion. Its home territory once stretched from Texas to Florida, but as of 2013 the only populations remaining were in the southwest Florida in the Big Cypress National Preserve, the Everglades National Park and the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. In-breeding due to population isolation does threaten the species, but several conservation groups are working to save the tan-colored cat from extinction. Due to its low population numbers, Florida school children elected it the state's official animal in 1982. In 1973, it was one of the first species added to the then newly-enacted Endangered Species Act.
He's considered a pest in Argentina because his habitat in the Patagonia grasslands is also shared by livestock ranchers. Local and international hunters target the cats as government officials encourage "hunting tourism" as a way to stimulate the country's sagging economy. In 2011, conservation scientists in Argentina joined forces with southern California's Felidae Conservation Fund -- a group working internationally to raise conservation awareness of big cats worldwide. The group is working to get accurate population numbers in the Southern Buenos Aires province.
Costa Rican Cougar
His home range includes Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. As of 2013, his population numbers remain steady due in most part to human apathy. Conservation efforts on his behalf have waned as activists are more concerned with the plight of the jaguar in this region. However, hunters aren't that interested in this big cat as his coat, which resembles that of the North American cougar, with its lack of spots is not highly sought.
He's extinct but still worth a mention as he's believed to be the ancestor of the modern day leopard. Taxonomy research in the 1960s led researchers to consider moving him from the genus Panthera to the genus Puma. Its name -- Owen's Panther -- is a nod to the Richard Owen, the researcher who first described it.
- San Diego Zoo Animal Bytes: Puma
- University Of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Puma
- A - Z Animals: Puma
- Panthera: Cougar Subspecies
- Florida Panther: Florida Panther Facts
- National Wildlife Federation: Florida Panther
- Felidae Conservation Fund: Argentina Puma Project
- International Adventure: Argentina Puma Hunting
- Carnivora Forum: Owen's Panther
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.