Puma. Cougar. Panther. Painter. Catamount. These are all names for the elusive mountain lion that wanders in and out of the North Louisiana news. Every few years images of these cats show up on field cameras in forested areas or on television cameras in residential areas. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries officials maintain that those cats that are caught on film are migratory, and that there is not a stable population in the state.
The Florida panther is endangered, both in Louisiana and nationally. National Geographic estimates that there are fewer than 230 Florida panthers in the wild. Defenders of Wildlife estimates that there are fewer than 100 in the wild. Mountain lions (and possibly jaguars—but that is another page) once roamed North Louisiana regularly. One story about a cougar (which may or may not be true) is included in Teddy Roosevelt’s “In the Louisiana Canebrakes,” which outlines his trip to the Tensas River. These animals must’ve been drawn to the rolling hills. Well, the name “mountain” lion is misleading. While they may inhabit mountainous areas, mountain lions prefer forests, swamps, and grasslands. (I know because I asked them. Okay, I didn’t ask them…but I did ask Google. And, Google rarely lies.
Historically, the mountain lions who roamed North Louisiana were of the Florida panther species, a little smaller than their western counterparts.These sleek animals are almost entirely relegated to zoos now, with the exception of a small population in the Everglades, and the migratory animals that periodically appear on wildlife cameras.
Male mountain lions have ranges of roughly 200 square miles, while female mountain lions have ranges of roughly 80 square miles. Except when mating or when the young are still with their mother, these animals are solitary, preferring to hunt and feed alone. These animals store their prey in caches hidden in brush. Unlike bears, mountain lions prefer to feed only on animals they kill and often return to these caches of food until the grub is completely consumed.
If you think you’ve seen a mountain lion or evidence of a mountain lion, try to verify the sighting…not by approaching the animal but by photographing and measuring tracks or photographing scat. Wildlife and Fisheries suggest collecting the scat. I’m not going to tell you to follow the last suggestion, but I do suggest that you check out the Wildlife and Fisheries information on how to verify whether you have seen a mountain lion.
Although the historical range includes North Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opines that a viable population of these cats does not exist here. According to Wildlife and Fisheries, the mountain lions caught on film recently are probably either migratory Western Cougars or are illegal pets released. (Side note: It is illegal to own mountain lions in Louisiana due to their endangered status. If they were not endangered, you would still need a special permit to own one.)
At one point, there were rumors that Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge (in Southeastern Arkansas), Kisatchie, and the Black Bear Corridor, including Tensas Parish were be being considered as areas for Florida panther recovery. Although this idea seems to have been dropped, it is still illegal to kill any mountain lion in Louisiana.
You may have noticed that I’ve ignored the elephant in the room (or rather the black panther in the woods). I saved my opinions (and yes, a little research) on that debate for the “Black Panthers?”. Eventually, I may add more information about cryptids and conservation.
To learn more about the Endangered Species Act, check out the National Wildlife Federation.
Where to Find North Louisiana Mountain Lions
Mountain lions are rare in North Louisiana, and are elusive animals. These animals are dangerous, and I don't suggest seeking them out; however, you are more likely to encounter mountain lions in the black bear corridors along near the Tensas and Atchafalaya Rivers.