SCIENCE & CONSERVATION
Protecting Females & Kittens
Cougars are one of the extremely few animals that can be legally hunted while they are raising dependent young, unlike deer, elk, or pronghorn.
For female cougars, parenting is a solitary task with endless responsibilities. Cougars are devoted mothers; they feed, protect, and teach their young the hunting skills they will need later in Life. Cougar kittens stay with their mothers anywhere from eighteen to twenty-four months. It is in this time that kittens learn proper prey identification and hunting skills.
Female cougars spend seventy-three percent of their adult lives either pregnant or raising dependent young. For this reason, this reproductive segment of the population is extremely vulnerable. If hunters are not selective and able to properly identify the sex of a cat, there is high potential to orphan kittens. These kittens often end up starving to death or dying from exposure. Those that do survive often get into trouble. Not having proper prey identification skills and lacking the necessary hunting skills, these young cats may end up preying on easy targets such as livestock or pets.
The Cougar Fund suggests that state game agencies adopt a strategy for managing cougars that protects females and kittens.
Nearly every state protects the lives of female cougars with spotted kittens at their side. This policy is inadequate since mother cougars rarely travel or hunt with spotted kitten at their side. A hunter would rarely encounter this scenario. This policy fails to protect females with kittens over three months old – the age when spots begin to fade.
Few states track kitten mortality and more and more game agencies find themselves in a position of needing to place orphaned kittens in a zoo or sanctuary setting. Helping hunters identify the sex of cat is a simple and easy way to better protect cougar populations and avoid the orphaning and death of young cougars.