Cougars and lions

It’s walk­ing into the jaws of death,” I whispered. Two zebras had broken away from the herd and were mov­ing through the tall grass to­ward three lions snooz­ing in the sun. One zebra lowered its head to graze. The oth­er set a course straight for the lions.

Suddenly the doz­ing fe­lines were alert. Heads raised, they watched lunch on the hoof come closer. One li­on­ess crouched with the tip of its tail twitch­ing. We could see the muscles bunch­ing and re­leas­ing be­neath her tawny coat as she stared in­tently at the zebra. Then,  ever so slowly, she began to slink through the grass.

Walking toward the jaws of death.
Walking to­ward the jaws of death.

I was with a group of friends and fam­ily on sa­fari in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. These weren’t the first lions and zebras we’d seen. But it was the first stalk and po­ten­tial kill we’d wit­nessed. The si­lence in the jeep was palpable.

Then the li­on­ess broke cov­er, ra­cing to­ward the zebra. It turned to run but with­in a few strides the lion leapt and sunk its claws onto the black and white striped haunch. There was a col­lect­ive “Oh!” from our vehicle. The zebra bucked and kicked with its rear legs caus­ing the lion to lose its grip. It chased the flee­ing an­im­al for few metres, then gave up.

In the dis­tance we saw the zebra limp­ing and wondered if the deep, bloody gashes would be­come in­fec­ted or at­tract oth­er predators.

Cougars, like all cats, focus intently on their prey.
Cougars, like all cats, fo­cus in­tently on their prey.

Although a sim­il­ar col­our, African lions are much big­ger than cou­gars and live in large prides un­like the more sol­it­ary cou­gar. (We saw as many as 35 lions loun­ging to­geth­er!) But the two spe­cies of big cats are equally op­por­tun­ist­ic when it comes to prey. And the lion’s total fo­cus and man­ner of ap­proach­ing her prey was ex­actly how a cou­gar would re­spond to an un­aware deer com­ing its way.

But the story wasn’t over yet. As the li­on­ess sauntered back to her com­pan­ions our guide said, “She’s com­ing back for a hug.” When the lion reached one of the oth­ers, she placed her head on its shoulder and the su­pine lion reached up to wrap her fore­leg and paw around the other’s neck.

Mountain lions of­ten hunt alone but on oc­ca­sion a fe­male with cubs or two young adults will tackle prey to­geth­er. I won­der if cou­gars also provide con­sol­ing hugs if their pro­spect­ive meal escapes?

Catch a cougar by the tail

Dogs chase cats and dogs that chase cou­gars seem to be par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­ast­ic.  

One of the most fam­ous cou­gar hunters, former US pres­id­ent, Theodore Roosevelt, wrote about “dogs that climbed trees.” He said a blood­hound named Turk scrambled al­most nine metres (30 feet) up a pinyon tree be­fore plum­met­ing to the ground. And a half-breed bull­dog reg­u­larly went as high as six metres (20 feet) or more after cou­gars. Apparently, the branches broke the dogs’ falls as, no mat­ter how far they fell, they con­tin­ued to “climb trees.”  

Winston Vickers, as­so­ci­ate veter­in­ari­an at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, told me about a cou­gar that jumped out of a tree, landed in the middle of a pack of re­search track­ing hounds, grabbed a dog by the head and took off. Of course, all the oth­er hounds gave chase. One got close enough to grab the cou­gar by the tail. That was enough to make it drop the dog it was car­ry­ing. The dog sur­vived but wasn’t keen on track­ing cou­gars after that.  

But un­til re­cently, I’d nev­er heard of a dog catch­ing a cou­gar by the tail and go­ing up a tree. The foot­age on this short video clip is in­cred­ible. And yes, both the dog and cou­gar survived. 

Cougar running in snow.
Isn’t that tail just beg­ging to be pulled?
Photo cour­tesy California Fish and Game.




Saw a cougar on the way to sell The Cougar

I picked Susan Ketchen up at 6:30 the morn­ing of August 2. The car was loaded with chairs, cool­ers filled with snacks and boxes of books. We were headed to Telegraph Cove Resort on the north­ern end of Vancouver Island to par­ti­cip­ate in their an­nu­al out­door mar­ket. Susan had cop­ies of her Born That Way series to sell and I had a box of my latest book, The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous.

Coming around a corner a little ways past Nimpkish Lake, I slowed as a deer was cross­ing the road ahead. Only it didn’t have long, skinny legs and wasn’t the right shape. It moved like a bear but wasn’t black. And then, as its hind end be­came the pre­dom­in­ant view, we saw the tail and shouted, “It’s a cougar!”

It was HUGE and just lan­guidly walk­ing across the pave­ment, not in any hurry and not at all con­cerned about the ap­proach­ing car. In fact, it nev­er even glanced at us. We had time to watch the big paws strike the as­phalt, ob­serve the red­dish tan fur and the su­per long tail with its dis­tinct­ive black tip. And then – poof! It dis­ap­peared into a thin rim of bush along­side a clear­cut. We were on a cou­gar high all day!

Due to its size and cas­u­al swag­ger, we think it was a ma­ture male. And strangely, the only cou­gar my part­ner, Rick, has seen in the wild, was spot­ted not too far away about 20 years ago. He said that cat was also enorm­ous and that the grace and speed of it run­ning across the road in two bounds and then ef­fort­lessly leap­ing up a nine metre bank was incredible.

This isn't the cougar Susan and I saw - our cougar was larger!  Image courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
This is­n’t the cou­gar Susan and I saw — our cou­gar was lar­ger!
Image cour­tesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Although the time span makes it im­possible that Rick and I saw the same cou­gar, it’s pos­sible my sight­ing was the son or grand­son of the one he saw. Either way, there’s no doubt that area is ex­cel­lent cou­gar habitat.

And I won­der how many au­thors that have writ­ten books about cou­gars have seen one on the way to sell their book?

The Cougar wins gold!

I’d for­got­ten about the Foreword Review’s IndieFab Nature Book of the Year nom­in­a­tion so was caught totally off guard when The Cougar re­ceived the gold award!

As al­ways, I’m so grate­ful for the sup­port and great work  done by my pub­lish­er, Douglas & McIntyre and to all the people who so gen­er­ously con­trib­uted their know­ledge, ex­per­i­ences and pho­to­graphs. The book would­n’t ex­ist without them.

Renee Andor wrote a great art­icle about The Cougar’s win in the Comox Valley Record.