Where Can Mountain Lions Be Found (US States & Countries)

A mountain lion, or cougar, is undoubtedly a sight to behold, and they make for a unique sighting as the largest cats in the United States and the second biggest in North and South America. That is why so many people go out hoping to see one, but more often than not, people struggle to find these elusive creatures.

The first reason is that mountain lions understand how dangerous humans are and prefer to avoid contact with us. The second is that many people don’t understand the habitat of these animals. Even in places that have mountain lions, they don’t have them spread out evenly.

While some people know where these animals live, they don’t know precisely where to look, because they don’t know much about their preferred habitat.

Are Mountain Lions Native To North America?

In contrast to their European and African cousins, mountain lions are native to North America and have been living on the American continent for millions of years, a great deal longer than humans. 

That means that cougars have had a long time to adapt to the diverse environment of the continent. The long period they have been here means you can find mountain lions across the continent, in almost any part of North America, which makes them an essential part of the plethora of American wildlife. 

Where In The US Are Most Mountain Lions Found?

Because of overhunting and environmental damage, mountain lions are now primarily found in but a few larger concentrations. So, places in the US with plenty of conservation efforts made, such as the east coast, are where mountain lions thrive. Oregon and Washington boast healthy populations of these big cats.

Aside from the East Coast, the midwest also has a sizable mountain lion population. You can find many of these cats in Montana, Arizona, and Colorado, and these places have larger populations due to the smaller number of people living there.

The US States Where There Aren’t Any Mountain Lions

Some states have no definite population of mountain lions. To help conservation efforts, scientists try to monitor the cougar populations in different states to see how well they are doing.

While many places have at least a small population of these giant cats, others have none. Places like Tennessee, New York, and Iowa have seemingly no mountain lions left. In these places, overhunting might have exhausted the population or damaged the environment to the point that the cougars left.

Although it seems troubling, there is still some hope. In some of these same places, while the official population is zero, there are still sightings from time to time. These could be from mountain lions who wandered from other states or a few isolated individuals. 

More importantly, though, these sightings are growing. That means mountain lions might be migrating back to these areas.

Are There Mountain Lions In Canada?

Yes, mountain lions are not exclusive to the US but can be found all over the continent, including Canada. Despite the cold, mountain lions can thrive there. Like in the US, the European settlers overhunted the mountain lions, but the population has bounced back over time and with new laws protecting them.

There are now an estimated 5,000-9,000 mountain lions in Canada. Most of these large cats are found in places such as ​​Saskatchewan province.

Are There Mountain Lions In Latin and South America?

Yes, the mountain lion population stretches far and wide across the Americas, and there are sightings from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. In South America, a subspecies of the mountain lion is known as the South American Cougar

Mexico

Due to Mexico’s proximity to the US, quite a few mountain lions live in our southern neighbor country. Many even migrate between the countries in search of food or new habitat. These mountain lions live mainly around the Santa Ana Mountains.

Brazil

There are many mountain lions in Brazil. However, like in America, these populations are under threat due to environmental degradation and overhunting. With so many ranchers in Brazil, the mountain lions are in danger from farmers trying to protect their land. As a result, mountain lions in Brazil are now listed as endangered. 

Colombia

Colombia is dubbed the capital of biodiversity with how many unique plants and animals there are in the country. Mountain lions are no exception and are just one of three different big cats in the country.

Peru

Although you may not see a mountain lion in Peru, they will see you. These graceful cats carefully hide in the Andes and avoid contact with humans. They have a strong cultural significance to the people of Peru, who admire their mystery. In many Incan temples and structures, mountain lion iconography is proof of mountain lions living there.

Argentina

You can find a mountain lion as far south as the Straits of Magellan, although you might not have to go that far. Argentine is seriously trying to preserve their cougar population, namely by establishing national parks to house them.

What Kind Of Environment or Habitat Do Mountain Lions Prefer?

Mountain lions are one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet and can survive in almost any environment. So long as they have enough food and water, they will be alright. However, that doesn’t mean that some environments aren’t preferred over others.

As their name suggests, mountain lions love mountains. In particular, they love heavily forested mountains for several reasons. Their main prey, deer and elk, live along mountains, so naturally, mountain lions are drawn to these areas. 

Another reason that mountain lions live in mountains is that they are ambush predators meaning they don’t chase down their prey but wait for the game to come to them. But tactics like that aren’t good in open places where animals can see them coming a mile away. So they prefer the mountains where there are a million places for them to hide.

But just as it gives them plenty of places to hunt elk, the mountains also provide cougars a place to hide from humans. With many people hunting, mountain lions do well to remain hidden; the forests are just the place to do it.

Are There Mountain Lions In My State?

There are 15 states with a confirmed mountain lion population in the United States. However, it’s important to remember that this is only based on what we know, and the numbers can fluctuate. In many other states, there are reported mountain lion sightings. 

Mountain lions are mysterious creatures, so there is a lot we may not know about where they are.

Arizona

Arizona is the perfect habitat for these powerful felines as a highly rocky and mountainous state. More importantly, the state is not heavily populated, so there is less pressure on the wildlife.

The result is that the cougar population here is not only healthy but actually growing. Recent numbers estimate that there are 2,000-3,000 individuals in the state of Arizona.

Arkansas

Although officially declared extinct in this state since the 1920s, the mountain lions are back Thanks to careful breeding programs, there is now a small population of about 30 cougars within the state. However, with continued efforts, researchers are confident they can increase that number.

California

The golden state has the single largest population of mountain lions in the country for several reasons. One is a large number of mountains in the interior parts of the state, which makes for the perfect habitat. 

Another reason is that most people stick to the coast, giving the big cats plenty of breathing room in the mountainous regions. Lastly, strict laws protect threatened species like mountain lions, and in combination with serious conservation efforts being made, this results in a booming population of 6,000 cougars in the state of California.

Colorado

Aside from being densely forested and mountainous, Colorado has a massive elk population, one of the largest in the country. Any mountain lions here can thrive and grow with plenty of game and natural habitat. There are now anywhere from 3,000-7,000 cougars roaming the wilderness of the state.

Florida

Florida is a compelling case for multiple reasons. For one, it is one of the only states on the East Coast with a breeding population. Second, it has a unique subspecies of mountain lions, the Florida panthers, which can be found in the Everglades.

Thanks to conservation efforts, the population of these big cats is stabilizing to a healthy and growing 160 cats.

Idaho

Due to the large expanse of wilderness in Idaho, the mountain lion population stands at around 2,000 cats. Unfortunately, this number is far from stable due to relaxed hunting laws, and many of these cats are under pressure to avoid humans. At least 400 big cats are taken down every year.

Montana

With the central and western parts of the state being covered in mountains, Montana is an ideal spot for mountain lions to live, which allows for around 2,000-3,000 cougars to call this place home.

Although hunting them is legal in this state, there is still plenty of restrictions, which allow the mountain lion population to remain stable.

Nevada

Unlike other states, the mountain lions in Nevada have no other apex predators, such as grizzly bears, to compete with. That means they are the only ones who control the deer population, allowing nearly 2,000 individual mountain lions to thrive here.

New Mexico

Like its neighbor Arizona, New Mexico is, for the most part, not urbanized, allowing a healthy 3,500 mountain lions to make their home there. That, as well as the many bighorn sheep to hunt certainly doesn’t hurt their lifestyle.

The state has also taken steps to limit hunting in these areas by severely restricting who is allowed to go after cougars.

Oregon

Oregon has plenty of isolated forests and mountains, places humans don’t usually go to in grand numbers. For the nearly 6,000 mountain lions and their prey there, they can live lives unbothered by humans.

South Dakota

Although once thought extinct in South Dakota, conservation efforts have managed to reintroduce mountain lions into the ecosystem. Their population is now rising to around 200 or 300 mountain lions.

Texas

Even the Lonestar state has quite a few mountain lions, though recordkeeping is difficult, so scientists are not sure of the exact population. The reason is that many of them live in the isolated Trans-Pecos region, away from major population centers, and here the land is perfect for these big cats to live.

Utah

With plenty of swamps and mountains in Utah, particularly in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, this area has a large population of 2,500 mountain lions. However, due to the abundant hiding places, you will not see them very often. 

Washington

In Washington state, mountain lions are found almost everywhere, especially in the Cascade Mountains, a crucial species stronghold. Since banning hunting dogs for hunting mountain lions, the population has grown to over 1,500 cougars.

Wyoming

Although traditionally one of the healthier mountain lion populations, there have been recent drops in their numbers in the state of Wyoming. Some people think this is due to the lax hunting rules of the state.

Are There Mountain Lions In The Rest Of The World?

As one of the most adaptable creatures, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that mountain lions can survive on different continents. While not the same as the mountain lions we see in the Americas, there are some variations of these big cats on other continents.

Europe

With so many mountains in Europe, it makes sense that mountain lions would call that place their home, and they did, at one point. During the ice age, many animals very similar to modern cougars and mountain lions lived in Europe, but those animals have since gone extinct.

Today only a handful of smaller cat breeds such as lynxes and wildcats are found in Europe. Despite that, some people still claim that they see big cats such as mountain lions in Europe from time to time. However, most of these cases are simply fantasies or escaped animals.

Asia

Along the Transcaucusses mountains, a kind of mountain lion lives along the foothills and mountains. Although their populations were seriously depleted from the 10th Century, some mountain lions are starting to return.

In the rest of Asia, the area is dominated by countless other big cats such as tigers, leopards, and lynxes.

Africa

While there are indeed lions in Africa, these are nothing like the mountain lions we know in North America. The African lions behave and appear different because they’re from a completely different species. If there are any mountain lions in Africa, these are most likely in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries. 

Did Mountain Lions Use To Be More Widespread?

Yes, although you can still find mountain lions in different parts of the US from coast to coast, they are not nearly as numerous as they used to be. Before the European settlers arrived, the mountain lions were widespread, so much so that there were many subspecies of mountain lions for specific environments.

In particular, the east coast population of these beautiful creatures has been declining over the years. 

In some places, mountain lions are a rare sight while in other regions again, they have disappeared entirely. Take Florida, for example. The Florida Panthers (a subspecies of mountain lions) are critically endangered, with only about 160 individuals left in the wild.

Why Are Mountain Lions So Endangered?

The biggest cause of the cougars’ decreasing population is human interference, particularly those of the American settlers. 

Many people feared mountain lions throughout the 1800s and 1900s due to the danger they posed to farms and livestock. As a result, many efforts were made to hunt these creatures, driving them far into the wilderness. 

Industrialization and the resulting habitat destruction only exacerbated the problems and lead to a further decline in the population of these big cats. 

This development is also why the east coast was more badly hit since, for the longest time, this was where most people lived. 

Are Mountain Lions Returning To Some Areas?

Thankfully, mountain lions are starting to return in some areas due to conservation efforts. In particular, the measures are working on the west coast, where thousands of our big feline friends roam in the wild. Some reports also indicate that some are slowly migrating towards the east coast.

Studies show that cougar populations in the midwest, such as in the Dakotas or Illinois, are starting to venture eastward. Some sightings are being reported in New York, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.

The same is true in the South, where larger populations are reported in Nebraska, Texas, and Arkansas.

This increase is because male cougars are known to travel long distances in search of prey, territory, or mates. As a result, they are reclaiming areas once populated by mountain lions and claiming them as their own again.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!

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