What is a catamount animal?

The word “catamount” is an abbreviation of “cat of the mountain” or “cat o’ mountain” or even “cat a mountain”. In the past it was often used to refer to any wild cat species but today it is a fanciful name for the puma, which is more commonly referred to as a mountain lion or cougar in America. I think that you will find that almost nobody refers to the puma as a catamount nowadays.

Mountain lion Griffith Park Los Angeles
Cougar under threat. Mountain lion in Griffith Park Los Angeles. Photo in the public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The origin of “cat-of-the-mountain” is the Spanish “gato monte” according to Mel and Fiona Sunquist, the authors of Wild Cats of the World. However, Google Translate translates “gat monte” as “mount cat” and directs me to use the Spanish “gato montés” which translates as wildcat. It is interesting therefore that the Spanish might have been mistranslated to mean a mountain cat when it should have meant a wildcat. I am speculating but that is the history of this word as I understand it.

Mountain lion
Mountain lion. Use of photo under fair use for educational purposes.

The puma is well known for having more names than any other wild cat species. Theodore Roosevelt summed up the situation in 1901 when he wrote that “no American beast has been the subject of so much loose writing or of such wild fables as the cougar. Even its name is unsettled….”

Other source: Cat World by Dr Desmond Morris and myself.


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