Cougar: non-detriment finding

Published 2015-01-09

Re: Puma concolor (Cougar) Non-Detriment Finding for Canada

Summary of finding

Export of legally obtained CITES Appendix II cougar (Puma concolor) is considered non-detrimental.

Supporting information

Biological characteristics

The cougar is a long-lived species with a moderate reproduction rate. Kitten survival from birth to twelve months is between 74 and 80% and the life expectancy of an adult cougar is 8 to13 years. All parenting is done by the female, who may mature reproductively as early as 20 months of age with age of breeding being determined by social status. Gestation is approximately 91 days, litter frequency is 18-24 months, and the average litter is 2-3 kittens (range 1 to 6). Cougar may mate in any season and females tend to breed again when they have lost a litter.

Cougar are solitary and rarely found together except when mating or when the female is raising young. They are polygamous, with the male range often overlapping several females. The social system of the cougar is based on land tenure, with only resident adults tending to breed. Cougar density is dependent on prey availability and habitat type. Kittens disperse after their second winter at 16-19 months of age. Female dispersal is related to the density of the resident population. As males tend to disperse more frequently and over greater distances, they are usually the first cougar to be identified in new jurisdictions. The presence of female cougars usually indicates that there is a breeding population present.

Cougar are stalk and ambush predators and will occupy a wide range of habitats where the vegetation and topography are favourable for this type of hunting. Cougars are carnivorous, and prefer deer or other ungulates but they will also hunt smaller wild or domestic mammals if readily available. Diet will vary with season as different types of prey become abundant. Cougars tend to avoid areas of human settlement, making encounters between cougars and humans rare.

There is currently no widespread acute threat to the Canadian cougar population. Human related deaths include regulated sport hunting and control due to livestock predation or human-cougar conflicts. Other threats include habitat loss, degradation or fragmentation and prey depletion.


The cougar is distributed throughout North, Central and South America, from the southern Yukon to the tip of Chile. The historic (c1600) range of this species in Canada and the United States was estimated to be 8,900,000 km2. By 1983, the range was estimated to be 3,983,000 km2, a decrease of over 50% with most loss of historical range occurring before 1900 in eastern North America. Cougar are abundant in western Canada, with established breeding populations confirmed in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The presence of cougar has been confirmed in the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories and Manitoba, which are not considered to be within the historical range of cougar. This suggests that populations of the cougar in the west are expanding eastward and northward, possibly following the expansion of the deer population. Population size is difficult to estimate because of the elusive nature of the cougar. The current Canadian population is estimated to be between 7000 and 10,000 individuals.

CITES recognizes four cougar subspecies in Canada. The subspecies Puma concolor couguar, which was historically found in eastern Canada, was listed on CITES Appendix I in 1975. All other cougar subspecies in Canada (Puma concolor vancouverensis, Puma concolor oregonensis and Puma concolor missoulensis) were listed in Appendix II under Felidae spp. in 1977.

The General Status of Species in Canada classifies the cougar as Secure overall. The General Status of individual jurisdictions is listed in the Jurisdictional summary at the end of this document. Appendix II cougar has not been identified by COSEWIC as a species of priority for status assessment.

Harvest management

In all Canadian range jurisdictions of Appendix II cougar except British Columbia and Alberta, cougar is protected under jurisdictional Wildlife Acts and harvest for trade is not allowed. Aboriginal peoples have the right under the Canadian constitution to harvest wildlife for traditional use although such harvest of cougar is considered negligible. Where appropriate, the presence of cougar is monitored through sighting reports and policy and procedures are in place to address cougar related animal control and human safety issues.

In British Columbia and Alberta, cougar is harvested as a big game animal under the authorization of hunting permits or licenses in accordance with their respective Wildlife Acts and species-specific management plans. The adaptive management framework for cougar is designed to provide the level of control necessary to maintain self-sustaining populations of both cougar and its wild prey throughout its range while minimizing threats to human safety and predation of pets and livestock. Jurisdictional management strategies are reviewed annually, and adjusted as necessary.

Control of harvest

Cougar harvest as a big game animal is managed by a combination of regulatory controls including hunting licences, seasons, bag limits or gender-specific quotas allocated by geographical management units which may vary with or within jurisdiction. The hunting season is closed when quotas are reached. It is illegal to hunt a cougar kitten or any cougar in its company. Compulsory inspection of all human-caused mortalities is mandatory. Wildlife and conservation officers monitor regulatory compliance within each jurisdiction.

Cougar is primarily exported from Canada as hunting trophies (skins or mounts). All guides, outfitters, fur traders, taxidermists, manufacturers and retailers that may be involved in the trade of cougar are controlled under jurisdictional Wildlife Acts. All are subject to operator licenses, reporting procedures and inspections, ensuring that effective controls are in place to prevent the entry of illegally harvested cougars into trade.

Overall, confidence in the Canadian harvest management system of cougar is high as these adaptive management systems allow for strict control of harvest and are reactive to changing conditions, with the aim of ensuring sustainable harvest and maintaining biodiversity.

Harvest trend

Cougar were managed as problem wildlife until the 1960s. Removals through bounties and wildlife control kills represent the only source of population trend data available between 1910 and 1960. Although the levels of mortality were high during this time, the absence of local extirpations demonstrates the resiliency of this species. In the mid-1960s, management of cougar as a game species was initiated. Currently the Canadian harvest cougar is managed so that the relative harvest level is approximately 10% of the jurisdictional cougar population when taking into account all human-caused mortalities (cougars that are hunted, accidentally trapped, killed by landowners, killed as problem wildlife or found dead).This level of harvest is considered sustainable in a healthy cougar population when the harvest of adult females is less than 40% of the total harvest.

Harvest monitoring

Through the issuance of licences and permits for the control of harvest, trade and interprovincial export of cougar, information is collected about cougars that can also be used for monitoring purposes. Monitoring methods include harvest questionnaires, compulsory inspections or reporting, mandatory proof of sex, comparison of actual harvest against models or submission of biological samples to determine demographics of the harvested cougars. Outfitters are controlled via the issuance of annual licenses and reporting is a condition for license renewal.

Incentives and benefits of harvest

Management of wildlife harvest in Canada is a partnership between governments and harvesters. Long term harvest is dependent on stable wildlife populations thus promoting a stewardship attitude towards both the cougar and its habitat.

Protection from harvest

The adaptive management framework currently applied to wildlife harvest management programs in Canada is very effective at preventing over-harvest of wildlife as restrictive measures can be applied if necessary. In general, hunting of cougar in Canada is illegal unless the species is specifically listed as a game species under jurisdictional Wildlife Acts. In British Columbia and Alberta, the species can be hunted in most of the species' occupied range but these jurisdictions have the ability to close harvest seasons in up to 100% of this range to achieve specific conservation goals.

Jurisdictional summary

Jurisdictional Summary
Jurisdiction Appendix II Species present Harvest occurring General Status 2010 Website
British Columbia Yes Yes 4 - Secure Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management
Alberta Yes Yes 3 - Sensitive Fish and Wildlife
Saskatchewan Yes No 2 - May be at Risk Ministry of Environment
Manitoba Yes No 2 - May be at Risk Conservation and Water Stewardship/
Northwest Territories Yes No 5 - Undetermined Environment and Natural Resources
Yukon Yes No 5 - Undetermined Environment Yukon
Canada blank blank 4 - Secure blank


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