Mountain lions are spreading east of the Rockies—a challenge for wildlife managers and communities.
Some friends who live a few blocks from me in the small town of Whitefish, Montana, had a house cat named Dandelion. After it went missing for two days, the family began a search through their wooded lot. In a nearby shed, they discovered the remains of “Dandy” and two other neighborhood cats. Then they found tracks of the larger cat, a cougar, that had been eating the cats and resting under the building between meals.
There are now more tawny, five-foot-long felines with a three-foot-long tail roaming close to people in the U.S. West than ever before. This is largely because the countryside has filled with so many humans but also because the cougars’ numbers have risen as well. Secretive and stealthy, sticking close to dense cover, they are twilight stalkers, most active at dawn, dusk, and during the night. Ghost cats. Most folks seldom realize they’re even around.
As a wildlife biologist, I’ve habitually kept an eye out for telltale paw prints, scrape marks, droppings, or other sign. I’ve found plenty. But like other rural Montanans, I almost never glimpsed the cats themselves, apart from a few momentarily caught in the headlights of my car. That began to change late last fall when National Geographic assigned me to write a story about these animals…