Threats And Dangers To Mountain Lions (Are They Going Extinct?)

Amongst the few predators in the mountains, the mountain lion is one of the most recognizable ones. However, not many people see mountain lions as often as they used to, which leads many to wonder if mountain lions are becoming endangered?

The North American cougar is not going extinct despite losing most of its habitat, since they have a stable population size. However, other species like the Florida panther may soon go extinct whereas the eastern cougar is already extinct in the United States.

Are mountain lions soon going to be extinct? What exactly is threatening the population of mountain lions? Join Floofmania as we take a deep dive into what impacts the mountain lion’s numbers, what will happen if they go extinct, and more!

Are Mountain Lions Endangered In Any Way?

Mountain lion lying on a tree trunk facing the camera.

Mountain lions are not regarded as endangered in most areas of the US. in fact, mountain lions are classified as “least concern” in most areas.

It is also important to remember that there are many different subspecies of mountain lions in North America, such as:

  • Florida Panther
  • North American cougar
  • Eastern cougar

The North American cougar has a decent population size despite losing 60% of its North American range. This is because there are still plenty of mountain lions roaming Canada and the western United States.

Want to learn about a mountain lion’s range? Read our other article, “Are Mountain Lions Territorial?”.

Florida panthers are unfortunately endangered because they were hunted heavily after 1832, and their numbers have not recovered. It is estimated that there are only 120-130 Florida panthers left in the wild to this date.

As for the eastern cougar, that species of the mountain lion, unfortunately, is already extinct

Is The Mountain Lion A Protected Species In North America?

Since mountain lions are considered an abundant species in many states, they are only protected in a few states of North America. Of course, in some states, like Florida, mountain lions are endangered, so this will vary on a state-to-state basis.

In Which States Are Mountain Lions Protected?

Some of the following states where mountain lions are protected include:

  • California – Mountain lions are classified as specially protected mammals.
  • Florida – Florida panthers are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
  • Idaho – Partial protection via the poaching laws, but it serves more as a deterrent.
  • Montana – Partial protection thanks to the poaching laws.
  • Nevada – Slight protection due to the poaching laws.
  • New Mexico – Mountain lions have been a protected species since 1971.
  • Oklahoma – Protected non-game species but citizens may protect themselves if mountain lions are on their property.
  • Utah – Protected wildlife species since 1967.
  • Washington – Protected game species since 1968 with regulated hunting that requires a hunting license.
  • Wyoming – Partial protection as deterrents because of the poaching laws. 

What Plays A Role In The Legality Of Hunting Mountain Lions?

The legality of hunting mountain lions will greatly depend on the hunting culture, requirements, and population size of mountain lions in a given state. For instance, mountain lions are not a protected species in Texas, and Texans can get a valid hunting license to hunt them.

Some states like Oregon only partially protect mountain lions by having specific hunting seasons. They also require hunting licenses, which helps in decreasing the likelihood of someone wanting to hunt mountain lions.

Notably, many states will still allow you to shoot mountain lions if it is on your property or about to attack a human. While this is not necessarily “hunting”, some people may use it as an excuse to not get penalized for taking down a mountain lion. 

Of course, some states like California and Florida take mountain lions’ lives very seriously, leading to a complete ban against mountain lion hunting altogether. 

How Many Mountain Lions Are There In The US and Canada Today?

It is estimated that there are 20,000-30,000 mountain lions in the US and 7,000-10,000 mountain lions in Canada.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that there will ever be over 30,000 mountain lions in the US. A mixture of lack of food and habitat along with overhunting presently keeps mountain lion numbers from growing.

Did There Use To Be More Mountain Lions?

There used to be a lot more mountain lions in the US during the 1800s to 1900s, but since then, their numbers have been declining because of human activity.

During the late 1800s to mid-1900s, mountain lions were aggressively hunted down to the point that mountain lions did not exist in the eastern states of the US. Mountain lions are only still alive in the western states thanks to conservation efforts, but they are not as abundant as they used to be.

What Has Affected Mountain Lion Populations?

The main reason the mountain lion populations have dwindled is overhunting in the 1800s to mid-1900s. Many people still hunt mountain lions to this day, which is keeping their numbers low.

Another reason why mountain lions struggled in population size is that there were very few deer to hunt in the late 1800s. This caused the eastern cougar to go extinct in the US because they had little to no sources of food.

Are Mountain Lions More Threatened In Some States Than Others?

Yes, mountain lions are more threatened in certain states because of the laws about hunting mountain lions in each state, the available habitat, and more.

For instance, Colorado has the largest population of mountain lions at roughly 7,000 animals. This is likely due to people only being allowed to hunt up to 180 mountain lions per year to avoid overhunting. 

Additionally, Colorado has a lot of prey for the mountain lion since Colorado has the largest elk population in the US.

California is a close second to Colorado with 4,000-6,000 mountain lions in the state. These higher numbers are thanks to mountain lions being a protected species in California.

On the other hand, the Florida panther in Florida has fewer than 200 individuals left. Other states like Nebraska and North Dakota have less than 50 mountain lions left.

Are Mountain Lions Endangered Outside Of The US and Canada?

Mountain lions are a species only found in the Americas. There is, however, a South American cougar that lives in northern and western South American countries like Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia.

The South American cougar is not yet endangered, but it is currently listed as near threatened in Peru, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil.

Will Mountain Lions Become Endangered In The Future?

It is possible for mountain lions to become endangered in the future. While the North American cougar still has stable numbers, continuous habitat loss, excessive hunting, pollution, and more can all cause the cougar to be endangered.

What Would Happen If Mountain Lions Went Extinct?

If mountain lions were to go extinct, it could lead to great problems in the ecosystem. Mountain lions serve as important predators in the forests and they help keep the population of prey down.

For instance, mountain lions often hunt deer, which keeps their numbers stable. Mountain lions are considered extinct in the eastern US, which is why the states on the east side have an uncontrolled amount of deer population growth!

When there are too many deer in a given area, it could ruin the area’s biodiversity because the overpopulation of deer will take too many of the resources. This leads to problems like overgrazed vegetation, which will make other animals struggle to find food.

Notably, this can also increase the likelihood of tick-borne illnesses. Deer are known to carry tickets that can have Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to other animals and humans. When there is a lot of deer, there will be a lot more ticks. 

Are Mountain Lions Keystone Species?

Mountain lions are a keystone species as many ecosystems in North and South America highly rely on them. A mountain lion’s role in its habitat is to regulate the populations of prey animals, such as deer. Without them, the prey animals would overpopulate, over-browse on plant life, etc.

Have Some Kind Of Mountain Lions Already Gone Extinct?

One mountain lion species has already gone extinct, which is the eastern cougar. It is worth noting that the eastern cougar is only declared extinct in the United States.

The eastern cougar still exists in Western Canada, but it is uncertain how many eastern cougars are left in the area.

One of the main reasons the eastern cougar went extinct was that it did not have enough food. The eastern cougar’s main prey was the white-tail deer, and the white-tail deer nearly went extinct in the late 1800s!

Mountain lion extinction is unlikely to stop at the eastern cougar, however, because the Florida panther population is also struggling after being hunted down to near extinction in the 1950s. With less than 200 of these animals roaming the wild, it will take great conservation efforts to keep this species alive. 

What Are The Main Threats To Mountain Lions?

Mountain lions are strong animals, but many factors have contributed to their dwindling numbers. Here are a few examples of the main threats mountain lions face.

Do Mountain Lions Have Predators?

Despite being large predators themselves, mountain lions do have predators. The main predators that mountain lions face in the wild are other mountain lions, bears, and wolves (in California).

Of course, humans are also considered predators of mountain lions and were the main reason why mountain lions have scarce populations today.

Are Mountain Lions Threatened By Climate Change?

Climate change does have a huge impact on mountain lions. For one thing, climate change can cause droughts that keep the mountain lion from having water.

These droughts can further impact the mountain lion by dehydrating the mountain lion’s prey. For instance, a lack of rain will lead to less vegetation, which causes herbivore populations like deer to decrease. As such, there would be less prey for the mountain lions.

Is Habitat Loss A Concern For Mountain Lions?

Habitat loss is a major concern for mountain lions, and it is a huge contributor to why there are not as many mountain lions left today as in the past centuries.

As you can guess from the name, mountain lions like to live in the mountains. You can find them in mountainous terrain or steep canyons. Humans have been building more infrastructure on much of these lands, which pushes mountain lions out of their natural habitats.

Want to find out how mountain lions can survive in steep mountains? Take a look at our article, “Mountain Lions: The Great Climbing Predator.”

How Can Humans Threaten Mountain Lions?

Technically, humans are the largest threat to mountain lions since humans are the main reason some mountain lions are endangered and extinct.

Overhunting of mountain lions was extremely prevalent from the 1800s to the mid-1950s. 150 years of extreme hunting will definitely nearly make a species go extinct.

Humans are also the primary cause of why mountain lions do not have as much range in the US as they used to. Humans have taken over most of the territory of the mountain lion, which causes the mountain lion to struggle. 

Why Do People Hunt Mountain Lions?

If you asked anyone in the 1800s and 1900s, people hunted mountain lions out of fear. Mountain lions used to dominate much of the mountainous terrains during this time, which left many people to fear for their own lives.

Notably, many people hunted mountain lions because they were farmers that wanted to protect their livestock. When humans built farms nearby mountain lion ranges, the mountain lions would not hesitate to hunt their livestock. 

Nowadays, there is not really any valid reason to hunt mountain lions. Most people hunt mountain lions today because they simply enjoy hunting. These people consider hunting a sport, and it gives them a thrill to hunt a big predator like a mountain lion even if the species is threatened.

Of course, there are also special reasons why hunting a mountain lion would be fine, but these would not truly be considered hunting. If you had to attack a mountain lion to protect yourself or your property, it would not be considered illegal in most states.

Author: Allison Marie Dinglasan

Hello! I am Allison, an avid writer for 6 years with a deep interest in animals since I was a child. I grew up on Animal Planet and animal books and often did rescue work for stray and sickly cats, dogs, and birds in my area, which led to over 60 rescues. My future goal is to be a veterinarian to have a more hands-on approach to helping and learning about animals!

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