Canada’s largest wildcat is also one of our best athletes: a strong swimmer, an excellent climber, and a powerful jumper—a cougar can leap more than six metres. Winter is the best time to notice this elusive feline’s tracks. They’re as large as a CD, with scalloped, triple-lobed heal pads and, in deep snow, often accompanied by tail drag marks.
Cougars are more common in areas with abundant food sources: elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and especially, deer, a favourite prey species. A cougar will stalk a victim until close enough to attack, then bound forward and bite the unlucky animal at the throat, holding on until the prey suffocates. A large kill can last a cougar several days; the cat covers up the carcass with leaves, sticks, and other debris to hide it from scavengers.
Unlike most wildlife, cougars can mate at any time of year, but most young are born in late winter or early spring. Babies have a darkly-spotted coat—it helps with camouflage—a look that lasts until they’re about two months old and the spots start to fade.