Tesla autopilot detects mountain lion running across road (video)

Townsend, Montana, USA: This short video neatly sums up a lot about the relationship between America’s mountain lion (puma, cougar) and people.

Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana
Tesla autopilot avoids puma running across road in Montana

This iconic wild cat, which is so closely associated with America (but which is found in all the Americas), was eradicated from the entire eastern half of the U.S. because it was at one time considered a pest and hunted in large numbers. Then there came urbanisation and more settlement which squeezed the cat from its range.

So we see this mountain lion in Montana, a state sparsely inhabited by people which allows the puma to live a pretty normal life except for the major highways that crisscross this beautiful place.

Note: videos on this site are typically made by people other than me and held on YouTube servers or the servers of other businesses (not the server storing this website). Sometimes the videos are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened I apologise but I have no control over it.

These roads are dangerous to mountain lions and they carve up their territory. In this video we can glimpse what might have happened if the car was not a Tesla. Bravo Elon Musk! The car momentarily brakes because the car’s autopilot sensors detected the cat coming rapidly from the left. You can see the car slow down and then pick up speed after the cat has crossed the road.

It happened on the road to Townsend, Montana. The video appears to have been made by the car’s inbuilt camcorder or dashcam. The video has a magical quality for me. It is a meeting of advanced human technology and the wild of America. I love them both but I love the wild more.

It is not hard to find internet stories of mountain lions killed on the road. It happens all the time especially in Florida which is relatively densely populated causing more roads and more accidents which kill pumas. I believe the highest cause of puma mortality in Florida is road traffic.

Roads are anti-conservation. They fragment the habitats of wild species. They invade the wild places. They bring more people, more activity and more commerce and as a consequence an environment which is less comfortable for pumas.

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What is the largest mountain lion on record?

Puma
Puma

There will be a dispute about this but I believe that I have a definitive record for the largest or heaviest (should be the same) mountain lion on record because it was certified by the U.S. Biological Survey. The cat was an Arizona puma killed in 1917 by a predator hunter i.e. a sport hunting human.

It must have pleased him to have killed such a magnificent creature. Without intestines (removed for some reason perhaps to preserve the body) the cat weighed 125 kilograms. This is 276 pounds. If you add back the intestines which at a guess would have weighed several pounds you could argue that this cat weighed in the region of 280 pounds.

The source of this information is:

Young S.P. 1946 History, life habits, economic status, and control, part 1. In S.P. Young and E.A. Coleman, The Puma, mysterious American cat, 1-173. Washington, DC: American Wildlife Institute. This reference is used by Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist at page 254.

This is considerably more that the reported number referred to by Wikipedia: 1901 – 232 pounds. They say the 276 pound weight is unreliable and might have been exaggerated.

I disagree because it was certified. An exaggerated record might be the 170 kilogram weight of a puma killed in 1958 in the Chaco region of Paraguay reported in Sports Afield Hunting Annual. This is 375 pounds.

The weights of pumas vary hugely over their large geographic range across north, central and south America. You’d be surprised to read that pumas in equatorial forests in Peru weigh between 28 and 30 kilograms (62-66 pounds). This is not much larger than a medum-sized wild cat.

There is also a wide divergance in weight between males and females. Males weigh 40-60 percent more than females and are larger in all body measurements. It is believed that the difference is due to sexual selection. I take this to mean that females select large males with whom to mate.

SOME ON WILD CAT SPECIES BY SIZE:

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If a cougar mauls a dog and kills a domestic cat you shoot the cougar

The policy of conservation officerso in the area of Penticton1, British Columbia, Canada, is to shoot dead a cougar (even a young one2) if it mauls someone’s dog and kills a cat.

Conservation officers do this because it indicates a pattern of taking domestic pets instead of sticking to a ‘natural diet of deer and smaller wildlife’. So said Conservation officer Clayton DeBruin.

Beautiful puma
Beautiful puma. Picture in the public domain.

Well, although I understand the argument, when you analyse it, it does not stack up very well.

We knew that we were dealing with a cat (cougar) that had a pattern of taking domestic pets instead of sticking to its natural diet of deer and smaller wildlife… – Conservation Officer

Firstly, the reason why a subadult mountain lion attacked and dog and killed a cat is because to the puma pets are natural prey. For deBruin to say they are not natural prey is entirely incorrect.

The reason why pets are natural prey to some pumas is because people build homes on the puma’s territory. People are at fault. But of course we blame and punish the puma.

Secondly, the policy is flawed because over the very long term, as the Canadian human population grows, it will become ever more likely that there will be this conflict between pumas and people. The only result under this conservation3 policy will be more puma shoot dead.

So the policy has to change. There is always relocation of mountain lions. Some say it does not work but I know that some authorities do it. Isn’t it too easy and lazy to shoot a beautiful puma who is behaving entirely naturally because the cat has wandered into a human settlement and become habituated to humans? Isn’t there a better solution?

Can’t developers be banned from building on areas where the puma is known to live? If there is a clash between wild cat and people, relocate the cat. Do something more humane and more respectful of wildlife.

The dog was off a leash. Perhaps all dogs should be on a leash when outside in areas where pumas are known to live. And if people let their cat go outside in an area where it is known there are pumas, they should take the consequences. Surely the responsibility is on people to behave in a way which protects wildlife?

In a place like Canada where there is abundant wildlife, there needs to be a more sympathetic and sophisticated attitude to wildlife conservation. I sense a rather crude approach to it. Shooting a puma must be the absolute last resort. And I feel that conservation officers can be trigger happy. They have a rifle in their pick up truck and they have to use it sometime, somewhere.

Notes:

1: Penticton is about 100 kilometers north of the US state of Washington.

2: Young cougars are inexperienced and less dangerous than adult. In fact they are hardly a danger at all to people.

3: What is being preserved? This is hardly a conservation policy.

The report comes rom BC local news.

SOME MORE ON THE PUMA (THERE’S LOTS MORE ON THIS SITE):

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Is this cat climbing a fence in Georgetown, Washington D.C. a mountain lion or a domestic tabby?

NBC Washington have questioned whether the cat videoed by a Ring door bell security camera is a mountain lion or a domestic cat. There is the usual hype. The lady who checked her Ring security camera said that the cat was huge and not like any domestic cat she has seen:

“This thing is huge and it has short hair. It is not any kind of domestic cat that I’ve ever seen before…”

The reason why this domestic cat looks huge is because the camera has an extreme wide angle lens and the cat is very close to the camera. This distorts the cat making him look larger.

Mystery Georgetown cat?
Mystery Georgetown cat?
Mountain lion? No a domestic tabby cat
Mountain lion? No a domestic tabby cat

But if you compare the anatomy of the toes and foot of the mountain lion to this cat you see a stark difference in scale. The mountain lion paw is much larger, more robust and less delicate as is the antomy to which it is attached.

Mountain lion paw, foot and hock
Mountain lion paw, foot and hock

The domestic cat’s toes (paw) are quite delicate and small compared to the paws of large wild cat species, even compared to medium sized wild cats like the caracal or serval. And the foot is much narrower in the domestic cat compared to the same anatomy of the puma.

There is another point to make. The cat in the picture is a tabby cat. You can see the stripes on the legs. Mountain lions are not tabby cats! They don’t have these markings.

That is the conclusion: this is clearly a domestic cat enjoying a bit of nighttime roaming and the lady, Giulia di Marzo, who saw it on her Ring video camera has assessed this completely incorrectly. Perhaps her thoughts are coloured by that ever present emotion: fear.

The press have shamelessly latched onto the story on a quiet news day. Don’t bother calling wildlife services or DC Animal Care and Control. You’d be wasting their time. Apparently the Smithsonian National Zoo has been called to advise. I apologise on behalf of this woman.

Mountain lions have been extinct in the east of the USA for donkeys years although there are sightings in the south e.g. North Carolina. These might be escaped pet pumas if they are genuine sightings.

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Why is the eastern puma extinct?

The eastern puma is extinct because they were extirpated from the eastern United States by the late 1890s. In other words they were eradicated or completely destroyed through hunting and trapping in that part of the United States of America.

Eastern Cougar
Eastern Cougar

This wild cat species was extinct long before it was declared extinct. The last one was killed in Maine in 1938 according to the Centre for Biological Diversity.

Hunting pumas is still big business and still very popular especially with dogs. Some people, like me find it revolting but a lot of people have diametrically opposed views.

You probably know that there is a small population of pumas in Florida hanging on by the skin of their teeth living in a habitat crisscrossed by roads and increasingly urbanised. Their survival is precarious. Relatively speaking many are killed on the roads.

Some people think that the eastern puma is not extinct. They report sightings. That’s the unofficial situation but officially they were declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service on January 22, 2018. On that date the species was removed from the federal endangered species list. This distinct population of pumas once lived from Québec to South Carolina and from Manitoba to Illinois.

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Do pumas eat penguins?

Do pumas eat penguins? It is an interesting but slightly strange question as pumas don’t frequent the sea shore. It is just possible that pumas do eat penguins but the data that I have from the best source on the wild cat species1 including copious research on the contents of puma scats (droppings) in South America tells me that no penguin remains were found in them. Therefore it is unlikely that there is actual evidence that pumas eat penguins or at least I can’t find it.


See update at base of page. Yes, puma’s do eat penguins in Southern Patagonia! But it is obviously rare. There you go…


It is a challenging question because it begs another question; whether the puma range overlaps with the range of the penguin. There has to be an overlap. It may happen in Peru where the puma’s range appears to go to the sea shore (just). Penguins live on the sea shore as they eat marine life such as krill.

If we say that there may be a relatively small overlap of distribution of these species, they may meet and if so the penguin would become a prey item for the puma because they are opportunist hunters. However, if it occurs it must be very rare because, as mentioned, there are no puma scat remains recording penguins as prey (that I can find).

Also, pumas in Chile – a country where there may also could be an overlap of distribution – hunt in areas where there is greater than average shrub or tree cover i.e. they don’t hunt on the sea shore!

It would be very strange to see a puma on the rocks or beach hunting penguins. I wonder if it has ever happened or if the question “Do pumas eat penguins?” is genuine or just a speculative joke of some sort. It is that unlikely. My guess is that a pumas might find himself on the beach. In which case they just might prey on a penguin is one was available on that rare day.

Pumas in Chile eat hares, rodents, birds, livestock and unidentified mammals. Pumas eat prey from the size of mice to moose – a massive spectrum of prey animals. Penguins world tells us that the Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) can be preyed upon by the puma.

I can’t find any photos of pumas and penguins together! Nada. Zip.

Update:

Gonzalo B’s comment reads: “In Monte Leon National Park is the first report of Pumas eating penguins…” He refers to a study: The ecological role of native and introduced species in the diet of the puma Puma concolor in southern Patagonia and that’s abstract begins:

…. In two of the protected areas and in the ranches 60–74% of the puma’s diet was native prey. Prey species were primarily guanaco Lama guanicoe, followed by Patagonian mara Dolichotis patagonum, lesser rhea Pterocnemia pennata pennata, Patagonian pichi Zaedyus pichiy and Magellanic penguin Spheniscus magellanicus.

Thanks Gonzalo B.

Reference: 1 – Wild Cats of the World pages 256, 257, 271, 272. IUCN Red List and as stated in article.

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Wild cat species in Utah

The two certain wild cat species in Utah are (1) the bobcat and (2) the mountain lion (aka puma). The third possible wild cat species in Utah is the Canada lynx. The reason why I say there is some doubt about the Canada lynx is because Wikipedia indicates to me that this species of wild cat is present in Utah but the definitive answer should come from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Red List) and they are clear in stating that it is not quite present.

Wild cat species in Utah
Pictures published under CC license.

I suspect that Wikipedia is out of date. The books that I have are certainly out of date because the distribution of the wild cats is ever changing – shrinking in fact.

Wild cat species in Utah
Showing where Canada lynx has been reintroduced.

The Red List informs us that the Canada lynx has been reintroduced into a neighboring state of Utah, Colorado. However, the map clearly indicates that the reintroduction of this medium-sized wild cat species does not extend into Utah (see cropped version of map aove). I would say with certainty that there are two wild cat species in Utah namely, as mentioned, the puma and the American bobcat while the third is a poor possibility; the Canada lynx. I hope this helps.

There are many other pages on this website in which I discuss the presence of wild cat species in the various states of the USA. Please use the search facility in the right-hand column to find these pages. If you search for “wild cat species in” Google will find them.

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Wild Cat Species in Illinois

Illinois is in the ‘Midwest’ of the USA, just below the Great Lakes. This is quite important because it is a relatively densely populated and intensively cultivated area of the USA. It is a state in the second tier of most densely populated states of the USA. Human population density is relevant to the survival of wild cat species: the more humans there are the less wild cats there are. Also, more farming means less natural habitat for the wild cats.

Bobcat in a backyard
Bobcat in a backyard. Apologies: I don’t have the photographer’s name.

In 2002 Mel and Fiona Sunquist writing in their wonderful book, Wild Cats of the World show a large blank hole around the state of Illinois where the American bobcat was deemed to be more or less absent at that time because of the reasons stated above: too many people and too much farming.

It is interesting to note that the IUCN Red List (the best source of information regarding the current distribution of wild cat species) tells us that the bobcat is officially present in Illinois; in around 90% of the state. This is an improvement on 2015.

Area where bobcat is supposedly absent in Illinois
Area where bobcat is supposedly absent in Illinois, USA. Note: this is an improvement on 2015. In other words, there are more bobcats in Illinois in 2016 compared to 2015.

No doubt occupants of that state will tell us that the bobcat is present throughout the entire state. Please report sightings in a comment.

There are no other wild cat species in Illinois according to the experts. The other American wild cat which was once found across America, the puma or mountain lion, is no longer seen in Illinois or indeed throughout the entire eastern half of the country. This super wild cat was ‘extirpated’ (eradicated) from the eastern United States by the late 1890s’ (except for a small population in Florida).

However sometimes pumas do roam from the west to the east. They can travel vast distances looking for a home range. A male puma might travel into or through Illinois.

Some people believe that small isolated puma populations still exist in remote parts of the cat’s former range. There are quite frequent sightings of pumas in the east of the USA. Even on this website there are recorded sightings in North Carolina for example.

Others argue that the sightings are of escaped captive cats or cats that have been deliberately released.

Therefore the wild cat species in Illinois are (a) the American bobcat and (b) perhaps the odd puma.

There should be no other sightings of, for example, the small wild cats such as the ocelot or the jaguarundi. These cats do not live in Illinois. Occasionally there are possible sightings of these cats in the south bordering Mexico nd in Florida but I for one have not heard of any sightings in Illinois.

See wild cats of the world map – shows where the wild cat species are found by country.




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