Known by their many names— puma, panther, cougar, catamount, screamer, painter, and red tiger—mountain lions are elusive wild cat species that are only present in small populations across the United States, mostly in forested areas with plenty of prey.
There are around 20,000 to 40,000 mountain lions in the U.S. found across 17 states, with as many as 6,000 in California, Oregon, and Texas and as few as 20 to 30 in Arkansas. Mountain lions occur in mountainous terrains, rocky canyons, deserts, and forests, near or in areas with an abundance of deer.
This article will provide you with everything you need to know about the population of mountain lions in the states they are present in, why they are extirpated from other states and other interesting information. Read further for more!
Table of Contents
U.S. States With Mountain Lion Populations
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
U.S. States Without Mountain Lion
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Mountain Lion Population by State
Mountain lions were once distributed statewide, especially in habitats such as rough terrains, upland woodlands, and bottomland swamps. After decades-long activities of unregulated hunting and trapping as well as the destruction of habitats, cougars have been extirpated since around the mid-1800s.
The last confirmed cougar was killed in 1956 in Tuscaloosa County. Since then, there have been occasional sightings in the state. However, none have been verified by officials in over 50 years.
The state was considered a part of the historical range of mountain lions before they were extirpated due to hostility of humans towards the animals as well as habitat loss, resulting in a whopping two-thirds reduction in population.
Sightings have been reported in the state since the 1940s, particularly in the Southeast regions of the state that are adjacent to the known living populations in Canada. State wildlife biologist claim that cougar sightings reported in 2010 and 2011 were found near Unuk River, about 25 miles North of Ketchikan.
Population: 2,000 to 2,700
The mountain lion population in Arizona is known to be stable. It is not classified as a threatened, endangered, or sensitive species. They are commonly found in mountainous or rocky terrains. However, they are incredibly elusive and shy animals, so residents don’t often see them.
Hunting down mountain lions is legal but is state-regulated. Hunters are required to have a tag before the hunting season. They also need to present the animal’s skull, hide, and proof of sex within 10 days of harvest.
Population: 20 to 30
Due to the extended range of mountain lions and the number of feral hogs present in the state, Arkansas has about 20 to 30 cougars which are even classified as a breeding population due to the recent sighting of a female cougar with its three cubs.
Officials believed that mountain lions were extinct in the state, with the last sighting reported in 1920. However, in 1949, an adult mountain lion was killed near Montgomery County. Then, several reported sightings started emerging in the years thereafter.
Population: 4,000 to 6,000
Although the exact population of mountain lions in California is unknown, the latest estimate was around 1996 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is estimated that there are around 4,000 to 6,000 cougars statewide using density estimates.
Mountain lions in the state are usually found in habitats where deer are abundant, such as foothills and mountains. The populations are assumed to be relatively stable, with mountain lions being classified by law as species under special protection.
Population: 3,000 to 7,000
From categorically being recognized as varmints in 1929 to big game species in 1965, mountain lions are publicly appreciated. They are considered to need robust management strategies to avoid population decline.
In Colorado, they are commonly found in forested areas of mountain mahogany, pinyon pine, oak brush, and juniper, specifically in deer-abundant terrains. Sightings are rare, and no attacks have been reported in the state in more than 100 years.
Mountain lions were extinct in the state during the 1800s, and the only wild cat species found in Connecticut are bobcats. The last confirmed sighting was in 2011 when a male cougar was hit by a car on Merritt Parkway. The animal was seen several times in the state before its untimely death.
Due to habitat destruction and the decline of prey in their respective habitats, mountain lions also drastically decreased in population during the late 1800s. Additionally, they were also killed by settlers as they were considered dangerous animals.
Cougars are considered extinct statewide, and no confirmed sightings have occurred in Delaware for the past decades, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. This is also due to habitat destruction, killings, and loss of prey.
There were documented cases of mountain lions that were assumed to be released in the state in the early 1990s. However, officials have never captured them and have assumed they have all died of natural causes.
Population: 120 to 130
Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi), a subspecies of mountain lions, are native to Southern Florida and are commonly found in swamplands such as those found in the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park.
These animals are considered critically endangered and vulnerable to threats such as habitat loss, mercury pollution, feline diseases, and road dangers. They can be distinguished from other mountain lion subspecies by their unique back fur patch, nearly resembling a cowlick and crooked tail.
In Georgia, mountain lions are considered extinct due to unlawful killings in the 1800s, habitat destruction, and loss of prey. There have only been 3 credible sightings of mountain lions in the state in the last nearly 3 decades but were all considered to be Florida panthers.
The last confirmed sighting was in 2008 when a local hunter killed a Florida panther while hunting for deer in LaGrange, Troup County. The hunter was charged and sentenced to 2 years of probation and a $2,000 fine for unlawfully killing the endangered animal.
Other than the fact that the state is considered an isolated archipelago and is therefore difficult for mountain lions to travel to, even if they’re relatively good swimmers, Hawaii does not have the appropriate terrain for mountain lions or any other large mammals to live in.
According to the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, their only native land mammal is the Hawaiian Hoary Bat.
Mountain lions are regularly occurring predators in Idaho, but sightings in the wild are rare due to their elusive nature and their ability to blend well into their surroundings. They are commonly found within the Magic Valley region, with observations increasing during the winter season due to deer and elk migration.
Hunting season in the state lasts for 10 months in a year, wherein hunters are allowed to buy multiple tags in a season and do not follow any limiting quotas. However, mandatory checking of harvests is still in place.
Cougars have been extirpated in the state before the year 1870 due to hunting and habitat loss. Occasional transient cougars have been reported in Illinois and were likely to have come from the Western regions, such as South Dakota.
The last 3 confirmed mountain lions were found and killed in 2002, 2004, and 2008 with genetic analysis indicating that they bore similarities to mountain lions from South Dakota. Due to their extinction, they are not federally protected by the Illinois Wildlife Code. Hence, no fines or sentences were charged to the people responsible for their deaths.
Mountain lions in Indiana have been extirpated since the late 1800s due to habitat loss and hunting pressure. The last and only confirmed sightings of the animal were in Fall 2009, located in Southern Clay County, and in Spring 2010 reported from Northern Greene County.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources receives reports of mountain lion sightings in their system but are ultimately debunked as they were mistaken for other species, inconclusive, or were part of internet hoaxes.
Mountain lions were thought to be occurring statewide but in smaller populations. The last recorded resident mountain lion in Iowa was shot in 1867 at Appanoose County near Cincinnati, Iowa, changing their status to extirpated.
In 2017, however, there were two confirmed female cougars that were both shot and killed. In 2019, there were 6 confirmed reports of mountain lion sightings and several unconfirmed sightings, especially within the Polk County area. There were no confirmed reports in 2020 and 2021.
Although there are no breeding populations present in the state, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism occasionally confirms sightings of mountain lions. There are a total of 36 confirmed reports from 2007 to 2021 based on evidence such as photographs or videos, tracks, droppings, fur, and cached killings.
The act of hunting down and killing mountain lions is deemed unlawful in the state. As such, there is also no hunting season for mountain lions in Kansas.
According to the 1974 book Mammals of Kentucky, there were no historical records of mountain lion populations present in the state after the year 1899. Although they were considered common statewide, cougars have been extirpated in the state for more than a century.
Only 2 confirmed mountain lions were reported in the state according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources: a female kitten that was run over by a car in June 1997 and an adult male cougar killed by a state conservation officer in December 2014.
There are no existing populations of mountain lions in Louisiana, but there have been confirmed sightings in 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2016. State officials believe these animals have likely dispersed from existing populations in neighboring states, such as Texas.
The Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries receives reports of cougar sightings throughout the state, but most are cases of mistakenly identifying the animals. Cougars are commonly mistaken for bobcats and large house cats due to distance or lighting.
Cougars were considered native to Maine before their extinction in the late 1800s due to habitat loss and hunting. The last known cougar in the state was killed in Somerset County, specifically on the Maine-Quebec border, in 1938.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife receives reports of possible mountain lion sightings annually, but most lack physical evidence, such as scat or tracks, and are therefore left unconfirmed.
According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the state does not have any naturally occurring mountain lion populations, and no cougar has been spotted in the state since 1983.
The agency identifies cougar sightings in the state as hoaxes or cases of mistaken identity. Most of the reports come from the Western Maryland region and the greater Baltimore area. The closest confirmed cougar to the state was killed in Connecticut.
Due to a bounty system in the late 1800s, there are no populations of reproducing mountain lions present in Massachusetts.
There are only 2 confirmed records of cougars in the state that substantially meet the characteristics of the animals. The first was reported in April 1997 when an experienced tracker found scat evidence at the Quabbin Reservation, and the second was in March 2011 when a forester discovered a fresh track trail.
What once were considered native animals statewide, mountain lions have ultimately been wiped out from Michigan in the early 1900s, with the last recorded cougar legally taken in 1906.
Several confirmed mountain lion sightings have been reported since 2008, which includes 2 illegally harvested cougars from the Upper Peninsula. Most of the evidence submitted is photographs and video recordings, but there has also been evidence of tracks, scat, and even carcasses.
Before European settlement, mountain lions were found across the state but were not in large numbers. Currently, there is no evidence of any self-sustaining breeding populations present in Minnesota, but there are verified sightings over the years, mostly of dispersed animals coming from Western Dakota.
Most of the reported mountain lion sightings, however, are cases of mistaken identity wherein they are bobcats, coyotes, large house cats, wolves, light-colored dogs, and fishers.
Mountain lions were native to the state, but due to habitat degradation and overharvest during the European settlement, there are currently no remaining wild populations of cougars in Mississippi.
Sightings are common, but most are misidentified as larger cats or animals that are dispersing from Texas. There have been no confirmed mountain lions in the state in over a hundred years.
Having been extirpated from the state since the 1920s, mountain lion occurrences are rare in Missouri, but there is no recorded evidence of a breeding population.
Confirmed sightings can be found across several counties, with a total of 86 verified reports since 1994. These cougars are believed to have come from Western states, specifically young males that wander from their birth areas and desire to establish territories of their own.
Population: 2,112 to 3,258
The population of mountain lions in Montana is considered to be thriving despite hunting pressure in the past century, thanks to the conservation and protection efforts of the state, which includes having a robust wildlife management system.
Hunters are legally required to obtain a license before mountain lion hunting in the state. Harvests are also required to be personally reported to state officials within 12 hours after killing the animal.
Considered part of the state’s native fauna, mountain lions have been extirpated from Nebraska around the end of the 19th century. However, due to the natural expansion of mountain lion populations from South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming, the animals have returned to the state and established a self-sustaining breeding population.
Breeding populations occur in four areas in Nebraska: Niobrara River Valley, Northeastern Missouri River Bluffs, Pine Ridge, and Wildcat Hills.
State protected and categorized as big game species with a “Least Concern” conservation status, mountain lions are naturally occurring in Nevada, particularly in shrublands, grasslands, and upland forests with pinyon pine, mountain mahogany, and juniper, as well as areas that are abundant with deer.
Mountain lion encounters in the state are rare as they are solitary and avoid areas that have a human presence. Although they occasionally pass through the outskirts of residential areas where there is food available.
Mountain lions in the state have been extirpated. There has not been any record of the animals since the last one was killed in 1885. Although there have been reports of sightings, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has not received nor found any physical evidence of cougars, such as images taken by observers or trail cameras, scat, and specimens of fur.
Most of the reported sightings are misidentified as bobcats and large house cats. Submitted specimens of scat and fur have been genetically analyzed but are shown to be samples from coyotes, raccoons, domestic dogs, and bobcats.
The primary reasons for the extirpation of mountain lions in New Jersey are loss of habitat and hunting during the 1700s to 1800s. Cougars were feared and were also considered nuisances as they consumed the livestock of settlers. As such, bounties were offered for their harvests. Furthermore, the decreasing population of deer may also have contributed to the extinction of mountain lions in the state.
There have been reports of mountain lion sightings, but none have been verified by the New Jersey Fish and Wildlife.
Population: 3,123 to 4,269
Mountain lions in the state range from tawny-colored to light cinnamon and occupy a variety of habitats in the state, but they especially prefer areas of mountain mahogany, oak brush, pinon pine, juniper, and subalpine meadows. They will also naturally gravitate to areas that are abundant with deer.
Even though mountain lion hunting in the state is allowed, hunters are still legally required to abide by harvest limits and reporting of harvests within 5 days.
Mountain lions are not native nor do they have a self-sustaining breeding population in the state. They have been extirpated from New York since the late 1800s. But there are, however, isolated sightings of captive non-native cougars that have escaped from licensed facilities or those cougars that have dispersed from Western populations, such as from South Dakota.
The last verified sighting of a mountain lion in the state was a kitten that was shot in Saratoga County in December 1993. The hunter initially thought it was a bobcat but was later confirmed by DNA analysis that it was indeed a mountain lion that had escaped or was a released captive.
Cougars have been extirpated from the state in the late 1800s due to public persecution, hunting, habitat destruction, and subsequent decline of deer. Since then, no wild cougar was ever confirmed to be occupying any area of the state.
Although there are periodic reports about mountain lion sightings and even mountain lion tracks, most of the cases are misidentified bobcats, domestic dogs, black bears, and coyotes, while others are “forced perspective” or the use of images from the internet and submit it as evidence.
The population of mountain lions in North Dakota, despite being a small number, is considered stable by state officials. However, there is a hunting season with a harvest quota of 15 lions in some parts of the state.
Mountain lions are found in the badlands, and the Missouri River breaks area in the state, but since they are capable of long-distance traveling, they can be found in almost any habitat in North Dakota as long as there are an abundant amount of deer and the presence of stalking covers such as brush, trees, or rugged topography.
Mountain lions have been considered extinct in Ohio since the late 1800s, due to hunting pressure and loss of habitat. Currently, there is no known thriving population of cougars in the state. There are reported sightings of the animals, like this news story from Belmont County, but all have been debunked by state officials.
There are currently no self-sustaining populations in Oklahoma. However, there have been 40 confirmed sightings of mountain lions in the state since the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation began keeping track of them in 2002.
Most evidence is of trail camera photographs or videos of the elusive species and is thought to be wandering individuals from thriving populations, such as those in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming. There have also been sightings that were debunked due to misidentification.
Population: 6,000 or more
Oregon consists of a stable and healthy population of 6,000 cougars, or more, which is a significant increase from an estimated 200 individuals in the late 1960s. They are found statewide, but a concentration of their population is found in the Blue Mountains and the Cascade Range. Recently, they are also spotted in Northwest Oregon.
The state is open to mountain lion hunting, which is conducted throughout the year or until quotas are met for each specific zone. Hunters are required to obtain licenses before hunting down cougars.
Due to statewide habitat loss, subsequent prey loss, the establishment of bounties, and eradication, mountain lions have been extirpated from Pennsylvania since 1871, when the last wild cougar in the state was killed.
There have been constant reports of cougar sightings in the state, but none have been verified by officials. Most of them are cases of mistaken identity where they are misidentified as coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, or large-sized domestic cats.
Mountain lions have been extirpated from the state since 1847. There have been sightings in the Great Swamp Management area, and Matunuck village since 2004, but the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has not verified any of the reports.
The complete elimination of mountain lions in the state was caused by heavy agricultural activities such as forest degradation and the loss of deer herd. Cougars were also viewed as nuisance animals, as they consume livestock as alternatives to deer. Today, there are now thriving populations of mountain lions in South Carolina.
Reports of individual mountain lions wandering about are still observed. However, these animals are typically killed.
Mountain lions historically occupy a wide range statewide, with a concentration in the Black Hills. The species faced a decline in population during the early 1900s due to unlawful hunting and the establishment of bounties, which continued until 1966. Today, the Black Hills contain a breeding population of cougars and are state protected.
The state conducts a year-round hunting season but is automatically closed when a limit of 60 mountain lions is captured or when 40 female cougars are taken. All harvests must then be presented to the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks personnel within 24 hours.
Habitat loss and overhunting are the primary reasons why cougars have been extirpated from Tennessee since the early 1900s. There have been verified sightings since September 2015, which leads officials to think that the animals may be making a comeback to the state as a result of their natural range expansion and exploration made by dispersing cougars.
However, there are large expanses between Tennessee and their established Western populations, which means it will take quite some time before cougars will learn to settle in the state.
Mountain lions lived statewide before European settlement, but by 1960, habitat loss and predator extermination significantly reduced their numbers and distribution in Texas. Currently, cougars are found throughout the brushlands of South Texas, the Trans-Pecos, and areas in Hill Country.
There are reports of mountain lion sightings in all 254 counties of the state, but not all are confirmed. Mortalities, on the other hand, can provide a more accurate summary of the areas mountain lions have truly occupied—only 67 counties have records of mountain lion mortalities.
Population: 1,600 to 2,700
Cougars have a statewide distribution in Utah, but they have concentrated numbers in the canyon and foothill areas, as well as even down in the valleys during the winter season when they forage for deer that move towards lower elevations.
Mountain lion management during hunting season in the state involves the establishment of harvest quotas, limited entry based on the expectation of hunting success and accumulated desired harvest size, and split. Hunters are legally required to present their harvests to Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources.
There are currently no self-sustaining, breeding populations of mountain lions in Vermont nor are there any confirmation(s) from the reported sightings that the Vermont Fish and Wildlife receives.
According to a researcher, there are only high-quality sightings based on the presence of equally high-quality evidence such as DNA, carcasses, photographs, videos, tracks, or signs. It is also believed that most of these sightings are cougars that are simply visiting the state and not those that are native.
Before being declared extinct in 2011, mountain lions in the state were considered endangered species despite not having any confirmed sightings nor any records of thriving breeding populations since the late 1800s. There have been 121 reports of mountain lion sightings since 1970.
Although rarely seen out and about in the state, Washington has a thriving population of mountain lions despite mass extermination in the early 1900s and is currently found in remote mountainous areas and forested lowlands. Despite this, they are still threatened by the possible loss of habitat and prey, poaching, disease, and vehicular collisions in the state.
The state began protecting cougars in 1968 with regulated 3-month hunting seasons, mandatory acquisition of hunting licenses, and reporting to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission of harvests within 72 hours.
Mountain lions were considered formerly occurring mammal species in the state but are now extinct due to a lack of physical evidence of any existing populations. This is most likely due to unregulated hunting and habitat loss in the late 1800s to early 1900s. There are recurring mountain lion sightings, but none have been confirmed by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Together with the Canada lynx and bobcat, mountain lions were one of the three native wild cats that roamed throughout the state. However, they have been extirpated from Wisconsin since the late 1800s or around 1910 most likely due to habitat loss and hunting pressure.
Mountain lion sightings began to surface among locals in the 1940s but were thought to be escaped captive cougars, dispersing male cougars from South Dakota, or cases of misidentifications. There have been several confirmed sightings, but there is no strong evidence that they have a breeding population in Wisconsin.
Population: about 2,000
Although there are no official statements and estimations regarding the population of mountain lions in Wyoming, it is assumed to be around 2,000 individuals. The unregulated mass extermination of mountain lions began in 1882 and lasted until 1973 due to the establishment of bounties by the state government.
The state has a regulated hunting season for mountain lions with set quotas and hunting areas. Hunters are also required to obtain licenses before hunting.
Mountain lions can be found across 17 states and live in various habitats, including mountainous terrains, forests, deserts, and rocky canyons. They are mostly extirpated in the remaining states due to unregulated hunting, loss of habitat, and subsequent loss of prey. However, there are still recurring sightings of the elusive wild cats even in states they are thought to be extinct.
List of Sources
Boulerice, J., Smith, M. D., Ditchkoff, S. S. (2018). Alabama Cougars: Sorting Fact From Fiction. Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Burger, L. M. (2016). Should Mississippians fear lions, tigers, and bears? Mississippi State University Extension.
Forrester, T. (2015). Mountain Lions in the Eastern United States. eMammal.
Mountain Lion. Indiana Department of Natural Resources.