What Is Human-Puma Conflict and What Can We Do About It?
- Author: Sarah Czarnecki
- Publication Date: November 23, 2021
Human-wildlife conflict is defined as any sort of negative interaction between people and wild animals. This could mean damage to property, livestock, or even harm to the animals and people in question. Any wild animal can be part of human-wildlife conflict, but in the Americas, interactions with pumas (also known as mountain lions, panthers, or cougars) are highest priority. Overlapping territories and habitat fragmentation due to human expansion has brought this issue to the forefront.
Pumas have the largest range of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, requiring up to 100 square miles per cat. It’s no wonder their habitats sometimes overlap with ours! Pumas are generally solitary and use this space to roam, reproduce, and hunt. They want nothing to do with people and they’re quite skilled in keeping away from us. Even when we share the same territories, we may never see these masters of camouflage.
Still, it’s becoming increasingly common that humans interact with them. Pumas do their best to avoid people at all costs, but when their habitats are reduced, it becomes more difficult.
The primary reason for human-puma conflict is livestock predation. They may not always be to blame when livestock becomes prey, since mountain lions share their territories with other predators like coyotes, wolves, bobcats, and bears. But it does happen. When a puma kills livestock, humans frequently retaliate in self-defense or attempt to proactively control predator populations. This is seriously detrimental to the species and can even backfire.
Another major cause of human-puma conflict is sport hunting. Deer hunting is a popular pastime and source of food for many Americans, but it’s easy to forget that deer are mountain lions’ primary prey. If they’re unable to access enough deer in their own territories, pumas will explore new areas in search for food, meaning more opportunity for conflict.
Sadly, many mountain lions wind up as roadkill. Highways that cut through large swaths of forests make it difficult for pumas to roam freely. Humans and pumas have shared the same space for millennia, but as our territories and populations expand, dangerous encounters become a serious concern.
Human-wildlife conflict damages the wellbeing of both people and animals. People at highest risk of human-puma conflict tend to live and work in remote areas and have fewer socioeconomic opportunities. Reducing human-wildlife conflict of all kinds is vital to species conservation as well as human protection.
How to reduce your chances of human-puma conflict
Pumas are apex predators at the top of the food chain, so for many people, fear of big cats is instinctual. But that doesn’t mean they’re a danger to us. In fact, the chances of being attacked by a puma in its territory is far slimmer than being attacked by a fellow human. Even deer—the puma’s prey—is a bigger threat!
By protecting your home, property, and self when outdoors, you can reduce the already slim odds of a negative encounter with a puma. Felidae works to educate people on peacefully living alongside wild cats, so here are our top tips for keeping everyone safe when sharing space with pumas.
- Make your property uninviting for wildlife. Keeping bushes and plants trimmed back helps prevent deer, which will in turn reduce potential interactions with the big cats. Fencing around your property and motion-detecting floodlights are great for keeping wild animals away from your home. Try adding deer-repelling plants to your landscaping. Popular choices are cayenne peppers, marigolds, mint, and other attractive plants.
- Protect livestock and pets. Keep your animals in their pens or enclosures at night. Ideally, these enclosures will have roofs for maximum protection. Putting away their food and water at night will make your home less attractive for scavenging animals. Guard dogs are another highly effective way to keep predators away from your animals.
- Use common sense when enjoying the great outdoors. Always hike with a buddy, stay on the trails, and don’t hike during dusk and dawn when pumas are most active. Make sure your pets and children don’t stray from you while you explore. Always stay aware of your surroundings. Be a noisy hiker -- this will ensure that pumas and other wildlife know to stay away.
- Learn what to do in case of an encounter. In the extraordinarily unlikely event that you do get up close and personal with a puma in the wild, stand your ground. Give the animal a chance to escape while you make yourself seem as large and threatening as possible. Stay calm, keep eye contact, and don’t act like prey -- that is, don’t crouch down, turn your back, or run. Cats (both big and small) instinctually chase animals, so don’t give the puma a reason to follow.