Cougars can be found in many parts of the world, including near and in populated areas in much of Canada. In chapter two, we will explore where cougars call home and where you can expect to potentially encounter one.
Cougars are one of the most adaptable mammals in the world and are known as habitat generalists. They are located from Northern Alberta and British Columbia to the southernmost tip of South America, occupying diverse landscapes, including deserts, jungles, boreal forests, mountains, and swamps. It is estimated that there are 50,000 cougars worldwide¹.
It is estimated that there are between 7,000 to 10,000 cougars in Canada¹. Although cougars used to inhabit all of Canada, they are now mainly found in Western Canada. In Western Canada, cougars prefer to live in the forested areas of the foothills, mountains, and interior plateaus. The forests offer camouflage for the cougars as they stalk their prey. There is little evidence that cougars occupy Eastern Canada, but recent sightings have been reported in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia².
Prey availability is among the most critical factors for the presence of cougars in any given area, with deer being their preferred prey. If their prey is migratory, the cougars will follow them. Cougars also prefer to avoid areas with human activity, but will occupy these areas at night. A study in Alberta found that some cougars chose habitats closer to urban and mined areas, with females occupying the area year-round and males only in the summer³. This study also found that females strongly avoided paved roads and agricultural areas year-round with males being more tolerant of these areas³.
Due to their solitary nature, territories are generally not shared among the cougar population, especially males. Mature males have the most extensive territories ranging from 129 to 1,311 km² ¹. Females have a much smaller territory range of approximately 62 to 412 km² ¹. Young males are transient and can travel 800 km or more to find and establish a territory of their own.
Territories are marked by scratch piles in which the cougar will claw, urinate, and defecate in several areas².
Cougars are both nocturnal and crepuscular. This means that cougars are most active (i.e. hunting) between the hours of twilight, dusk, and dawn and prefer to sleep during the day. However, in west-central Alberta, they have been observed hunting in the day, usually late afternoon and evening¹. Cougars are stealthy hunters who stalk their prey until they are close enough to attack. They do not hunt from trees and rarely sit and wait for prey¹.
The ideal hunting habitats for cougars are those that provide sufficient cover for stalking¹. This includes shrubs and trees that provide ground cover up to a few feet. Boulders, small cliffs, and edge habitats (between forests and open areas) are also a cougar’s favourite, as they provide sufficient stalking cover with higher prey densities¹.
This is the end of our Cougar series in the Knowledge Base. We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared if you were to encounter a cougar.