Puma Population USA 2012

***We don’t know the puma population in the United States.***

In 2002, the puma AKA cougar was ‘one of the few large predators in North America that people can legally chase with dogs and hunt for sport’¹. I am sure things have changed at least a little bit over the past ten years and hunting is banned in California. Once again hard data in one source is hard to find. Actually it is hard to find it in any sources, anywhere. Information about puma population size is as fragmented as the puma’s habitat. I had the same problems trying to compile bobcat and lynx fur trade statistics.

Cougar in a UK wildlife park

Cougar in a UK wildlife park – Photo by Neil McIntosh

The point I am making is that if we don’t know for sure what the population of the puma is in the USA how can we judge whether it is sustainable to hunt this cat? And another thing I hate the word “harvest” in reference to killing cats for sport. It is horribly symptomatic of human arrogance and a lack empathy with nature, which will cost us dear in the long term.

The best book on wild cat species, The Wild Cats of the World does not quote puma population figures except the well known population size of the Florida puma (70-80 individual cats) which they say is estimated (published 2002). More potential inaccuracy. Disappointingly, they use the word ‘harvest’ by the way.

The Red List™ says that the cougar population at 1990 was 10,000 in the ‘western US’. As this cat is confined to western US (bar the odd wandering individual), 10,000 is the total USA population of the puma. The Red List™ should be the definitive source because it is their role to assess the survivability of wild species in the wild. If you don’t know population sizes you cannot work out the conservation status of the species.

The Red List figure is completely in conflict with the Defenders of Wildlife website, which states a figure three times larger: 30,000! Where did that come from?

What else have we got for a figure? More guesswork, I guess. Wikipedia cannot provide an overall figure for the USA. They quote these figures:

  • Oregon: 5,000 (2006)
  • California: 4,000 to 6,000

The combined total of these two states in potentially larger than the Red List™ total for the USA. This discrepancy is to be expected.

Another really good book on the wild cat species Great Cats has no figures on population sizes.

Cambridge Journals Environmental Conservation, “Interpreting puma (Puma concolor) population estimates for theory and management” makes it clear that there has been inappropriate extrapolation of puma densities and densities cannot be used to assess population size. We draw another blank and we can see that estimates are in general unreliable.

Wiley Online, another scientific journal in their article, “Managing puma hunting in the western United States: through a metapopulation approach” suggest that better management of hunting is required to sustain puma populations. This indicates a falling population in the USA. This is indirectly confirmed by the Red List™ which states that the overall population of the puma is falling. The puma is found across South America and in parts of Central America as well.

When you search for puma population figures at Google books this renowned search engine throws up “PUBLIC USE MICRODATA AREA (PUMA)” – no idea what that is!

At 1973 (yes a little old!) in Southwest Oregon the puma population was stable or increasing² due to classifying the cat as ‘game’ not a ‘predator’. That does not add much to this article, does it.

Another source says, “Little data is available on population trends…” – United States. Bureau of Land Management. Vernal District 1989 referring to the cougar and black bear.

As I said at the start, the authorities don’t have a handle on mountain lion population numbers across the United States. They should.


  1. Wild Cats Of The World by the Sunquists.
  2. Josephine Sustained Yield Unit ten-year timber management plan
  3. Link to original Flickr photo.
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Puma Population USA 2012 — 4 Comments

  1. Wow. You are 100% correct. We are in the Texas-Arizona area for the US Dept of Fish and Game. That include New Mexico. I followed a very interesting newsletter some years ago about how difficult it was to track the number of Mexican Wolves once they were reintroduced in Northern Arizona. They had some luck collaring both the alpha male and alpha female of a pack, but they traveled such vast distances that even tracking by radio telemetry was a pain. They did finally get a rough estimate.

    On the shooting of these precious animals. I cannot speak for the other areas of the United States, but it is my understanding that we use ‘professional’ hunters to help cull the population of predators in our area. It leaves a dark ball of bile at the core of my stomach to think about it. I watched a gorgeous wolf taken down on television a few years ago. It was horrible. Let’s move on… There are plenty of reports of the number of permits given out all over the country and the number of animals killed. But no numbers at all, not even guesses on how many of this species or that species. We have a lack of man-power? Or is it lack of skill.

    I was going to write up a short article about this, but we have had professional hunters dogs tree two ocelots and five Jaguars about 200 miles south of Phoenix. They were found out in the desert, so no danger to the population of Tucson (Paul McCartney had a ranch there for several years). They, again, had no idea how many of either rare cat on in our part of the Sonora Desert, but it may be that these cats were looking for new territory to cover. This means the number of each species is up! No idea on the number, but we know they are growing. If the top predator in an area (the Jaguar in Southern Arizona and the Cougar or Mountain Lion as we call them here) is spreading out, that means there is more food. More rains equal more wildlife and the cycle of life profits.

    I am still in shock about there are no numbers to be had on pumas, bobcats, jaguars, ocelots or jaguarundis. I’m gonna look into this a bit more and see what I can find. Very interesting stuff. thanks

    • Hi Dan, thanks for the comment. If you can find hard data on puma population numbers that are verifiable please write an article about it.

      All wild cat species population counts are essentially guesswork! Wild cats are secretive and avoid people. Pumas avoid people if they can. That makes counting difficult.

      Camera traps are the most reliable way of counting wild cats – or scats (feces). Population densities are inaccurate.

      If the Red List does not know or care who does? The hunting people don’t want numbers published as it may stop their pastime. They are the most forceful group and certainly outweigh the conservationists.

  2. Not just Puma, or Mountain Lions as they are mostly called, demand respect – not because of the name of the word Lion but because they earned it. When I lived in the back hills I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of a mama lion. Every year I would talk to her and every year she would let me get a bit closer – till I made a carnial mistake. I invited someone to come to one of our sessions. As soon as she saw them she turned tail and I never saw her again, He thought it was funny I did not.

    • What a shame. It is a privilege to make the acquaintance of a mountain lion or any wild animal but mountain lions are gorgeous.

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