New mountain lion takes over at the Desert Museum

lionFollowing a press conference earlier this morning, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum introduced a new mountain lion cub to the public. The photo of the new 5-month-old cub indicates he still has some growing to do to fit his big feet.

The new cub replaces a brother-sister pair of mountain lions that came to the Museum in 1999. The average life expectancy of mountain lions in the wild is 8 to 13 years and this pair was feeling their age. They became arthritic and could not easily negotiate the steep mountain lion habitat at the Museum. They were taken off exhibit in early April. They now reside in an off-exhibit retirement space. Mountain lions in captivity have lived into their twenties.

The mountain lion (Felis concolor), also called cougar, puma, catamount, and Florida panther, is the largest of the American small cats. The jaguar is the large cat in the Americas.

Mountain lion females typically weigh 75 pounds but can get larger. Males typically weigh in at 145 pounds. Jaguars, which prefer wetter, more tropical areas, range from 100 pounds to 290 pounds but tend to be smaller in the northern part of their range. In Arizona and Mexico, mountain lions and jaguars can be the same size, so why is the mountain lion a small cat? The answer lies in vocalizations and the structure of the larynx. “Small cats”, including mountain lions, purr. Nice kitty. Large cats roar and are incapable of purring.

Mountain lions have the largest range of American cats. Their range stretches from British Columbia to Patagonia in South America. They used to occur in eastern U.S. states but have been largely driven out (with the exception of the so-called Florida panther.)

Mountain lions are pure carnivores and hunt deer, bighorn sheep, javelina, jack rabbits, porcupines, other small animals, and occasionally domestic stock. When hunting, a mountain lion tries to sneak up on its prey. Although powerful, the mountain lion has a relatively small heart and lungs for its size so it lacks the endurance for a long chase. The lion kills by biting the neck of its prey. A single adult lion needs to make a kill every 6 to 10 days. Mountain lions can leap more than 18 feet high and over 20 feet horizontally.

Adult mountain lions tend to be solitary, with a range of up to 200 miles. They pair only to mate. They breed at age 2 or 3. Cubs, usually three or four, stay with the mother one to two years.

For more information and photos, see a press release from ASDM here, better yet, head out to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to the new mountain lion for yourself.

Copyrighted by Jonathan DuHamel. Reprint is permitted provided that credit of authorship is provided and linked back to the source.