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Big Cats

The cougar population on the northern Great Plains is similar to bears and wolves and was completely wiped out by the early 1900s.

Today, cougars (also known as mountain lions or pumas) have recolonized the region around American Prairie. Large carnivores, like cougars, are critical to maintaining stability in prairie ecosystems. Cougars prey on deer and elk, and this predation ripples through the ecosystem. The natural hunting behaviors of cougars, however, can conflict with humans in the form of livestock predation, creating a potential challenge to communities whose economies center on livestock grazing and agriculture.


The United States Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Fort Belknap Reservation, the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and the World Wildlife Fund, conducted a research project to better understand mountain lion ecology on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. More than a dozen mountain lions were fitted with GPS collars in recent years in the nearby Bears Paw Mountains, Little Rocky Mountains, and the refuge. Findings indicate that the region’s cougar population is not sustainable over the long term. Read the 2012 report about cougars in northcentral Montana




Through the Landmark adventure science program and the Wild Sky initiative, we are developing strategies with stakeholders to find ways to increase cougar survival on and around American Prairie. Part of this work is employing camera traps to better understand cougar habitat and movement. We also anticipate that the conservation strategies for cougars will also increase the likelihood of recolonization by other large carnivores.