North American Wild Cats

In addition to the larger North American panther and mountain lion, four species of wild cats in two separate genera inhabit areas of North America.

Seven species of New World Cats (Leopardus), prowl the fields and forests of South, Central and North America, with two species the ocelot and margay, currently living along North America's southern border.

The Margay (Leopardus wiedii), a medium sized, spotted cat, is found from Mexico south to South America.

Cross border sightings in the United States occasionally appear as news items.

Margays are not listed as endangered by the IUCN, although they are listed as endangered by the United States. They prefer a forest habitat, and most accounts of the species mention their ability to climb down trees head first.

The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), a medium sized, new world cat, makes its home in grasslands, scrublands and forests, including tropical forests of South America, Central America and Mexico.

A small breeding population of ocelots also lives along the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where the construction of a border fence brings concerns that it could stifle Ocelot populations by restricting its territory.

The spotted coat made it a favorite target for the pet and fur trade. Population declines necessitated an Appendix I CITES listing. They are also listed as an endangered species.

Like most small cats, they are nocturnal, hunting at night for local rodents, birds and reptiles. They feel equally at home in trees and under brush.


Two of the world's four lynx species, the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and the bobcat (lynx rufus) call North America home.

The bobcat (Lynx rufus), North America's most common wild cat, adapts to habitats as varied as forests and deserts, as long as there is underbrush and an abundance of prey, mostly rabbits and other small mammals.

Bobcats average about three feet long from nose to tip of tail, with males generally larger in size and weight.

They are not considered endangered, and they are hunted for their fur.

The Canada Lynx, a northern wild cat, characterized by big, wide paws, was listed as threatened in 2000.

Mountain Lions Roaring Back in the United States

picture of a mountain lion

The mountain lion (Puma concolor), North America's largest breeding wild cat, goes by different names, including cougars and pumas and Florida Panther.

Males can grow up to eight feet in length and can weigh over one hundred pounds. Their coat is typically a uniform color of brown, tan or burnt orange.

Mountain lion populations in the United States have been stable since the 1960s. It's hard to keep a cool cat down.

After a century of being relegated to living in wilderness areas of the Western United States, the mountain lion, the largest, and arguably the most magnificent of the native wild cats is making a big comeback across the United States. They once roamed the entire continental United States and their East Coast and Midwest populations were decimated in the nineteenth century to make room for western human expansion.

In January 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a Mark Twain approach to the eastern mountain lion, by assuming they might have been prematurely declared extinct. They announced a status review which promised to bring clarity to the status of the big cat in the east.

Upon completion of the review, on March 2, 2011 the USFWS declared the eastern mountain lion extinct, saying,

Although the eastern cougar has been on the endangered species list since 1973, its existence has long been questioned. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) conducted a formal review of the available information and, in a report issued today, concludes the eastern cougar is extinct and recommends the subspecies be removed from the endangered species list.

Lion fans need not fear a USFWS review that confirms the absence of a breeding population of eastern mountain lions. Consider the research of the Cougar Network. They state,

Western cougar populations have been increasing since the 1960s, largely due to increased legal protection for the cats and to the growth and expansion of prey populations.

The network also continues to document current mountain lion expansion into the Midwest.

With a little determination, mountain lions will eventually find their way back east. Go Lions.

© 2007-2011. Patricia A. Michaels