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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 6, 2002 - Issue 58


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Why the Mountain Lion is Long and Lean


Blackfeet Legend


Cat's EyesA long time ago the Mountain-lion was a short, thick-set person. I am sure you didn't guess that. He was always a great thief like Old-man, but once he went too far, as you shall see.

One day Old-man was on a hilltop, and saw smoke curling up through the trees, away off on the far side of a gulch. "Ho!" he said, "I wonder who builds fires except me. I guess I will go and find out."

He crossed the gulch and crept carefully toward the smoke. When he got quite near where the fire was, he stopped and listened. He heard some loud laughing but could not see who it was that felt so glad and gay. Finally he crawled closer and peeked through the brush toward the fire. Then he saw some Squirrel-people, and they were playing some sort of game. They were running and laughing, and having a big time, too. What do you think they were doing? They were running about the fire - all chasing one Squirrel. As soon as the Squirrel was caught, they would bury him in the ashes near the fire until he cried; then they would dig him out in a hurry. Then another Squirrel would take the lead and run until he was caught, as the other had been. In turn the captive would submit to being buried, and so on - while the racing and laughing continued. They never left the buried one in the ashes after he cried, but always kept their promise and dug him out, right away.

Squirrel Left"Say, let me play, won't you?" asked Old-man. But the Squirrel-people all ran away, and he had a hard time getting them to return to the fire.

"You can't play this game," replied the Chief-Squirrel, after they had returned to the fire.

"Yes, I can," declared Old-man, "and you may bury me first, but be sure to dig me out when I cry, and not let me burn, for those ashes are hot near the fire."

"All right," said the Chief-Squirrel, "we will let you play. Lie down," -- and Old-Man did lie down near the fire. Then the Squirrels began to laugh and bury Old-man in the ashes, as they did their own kind. In no time at all Old-man cried: "Ouch! -- you are burning me -- quick! -- dig me out."

True to their promise, the Squirrel-people dug Old-man out of the ashes, and laughed at him because he cried so quickly.

"Now, it is my turn to cover the captive," said Old-man, "and as there are so many of you, I have a scheme that will make the game funnier and shorter. All of you lie down at once in a row. Then I will cover you all at one time. When you cry -- I will dig you out right away and the game will be over."

They didn't know Old-man very well; so they said, "all right," and then they all laid down in a row about the fire.

Squirrel RightOld-man buried them all in the ashes -- then he threw some more wood on the fire and went away and left them. Every Squirrel there was in the world was buried in the ashes except one woman Squirrel, and she told Old-man she couldn't play and had to go home. If she hadn't gone, there might not be any Squirrels in this world right now. Yes, it is lucky that she went home.

For a minute or so Old-man watched the fire as it grew hotter, and then went down to a creek where willows grew and made himself a great plate by weaving them together. When he had finished making the plate, he returned to the fire, and it had burned low again. He laughed at his wicked work, and a Raven, flying over just then, called him "forked-tongue," or liar, but he didn't mind that at all. Old-man cut a long stick and began to dig out the Squirrel-people. One by one he fished them out of the hot ashes; and they were roasted fine and were ready to eat. As he fished them out he counted them, and laid them on the willow plate he had made. When he had dug out the last one, he took the plate to the creek and there sat down to eat the Squirrels, for he was hungry, as usual. Old-man is a big eater, but he couldn't eat all of the Squirrels at once, and while eating he fell asleep with the great plate in his lap.

Nobody knows how long it was that he slept, but when he waked his plate of Squirrels was gone -- gone completely. He looked behind him; he looked about him; but the plate was surely gone. Ho! But he was angry. He stamped about in the brush and called aloud to those who might hear him; but nobody answered, and then he started to look for the thief. Old-man has sharp eyes, and he found the trail in the grass where somebody had passed while he slept. "Ho!" he said, "the Mountain-lion has stolen my Squirrels. I see his footprints; see where he has mashed the grass as he walked with those soft feet of his; but I shall find him, for I made him and know all his ways."

Juggling BearOld-man got down on his hands and knees to walk as the Bear-people do, just as he did that night in the Sun's lodge, and followed the trail of the Mountain-lion over the hills and through the swamps. At last he came to a place where the grass was all bent down, and there he found his willow plate, but it was empty. That was the place where the Mountain-lion had stopped to eat the rest of the Squirrels, you know; but he didn't stay there long because he expected that Old-man would try to follow him.

The Mountain-lion had eaten so much that he was sleepy and, after travelling a while after he had eaten the Squirrels, he thought he would rest. He hadn't intended to go to sleep; but he crawled upon a big stone near the foot of a hill and sat down where he could see a long way. Here his eyes began to wink, and his head began to nod, and finally he slept.

Without stopping once, Old-man kept on the trail. That is what counts -- sticking right to the thing you are doing -- and just before sundown Old-man saw the sleeping Lion. Carefully, lest he wake the sleeper, Old-man crept close, being particular not to move a stone or break a twig; for the Mountain-lion is much faster than men are, you see; and if Old-man had wakened the Lion, he would never have caught him again, perhaps. Little by little he crept to the stone where the Mountain-lion was dreaming, and at last grabbed him by the tail. It wasn't much of a tail then, but enough for Old-man to hold to. Ho! The Lion was scared and begged hard, saying:

"Spare me, Old-man. You were full and I was hungry. I had to have something to eat; had to get my living. Please let me go and do not hurt me." Ho! Old-man was angry -- more angry than he was when he waked and found that he had been robbed, because he had travelled so far on his hands and knees.

"I'll show you. I'll teach you. I'll fix you, right now. Steal from me, will you? Steal from the man that made you, you night-prowling rascal!"

Old-man put his foot behind the Mountain-lion's head, and, still holding the tail, pulled hard and long, stretching the Lion out to great length. He squalled and cried, but Old-man kept pulling until he nearly broke the Mountain-lion in two pieces -- until he couldn't stretch him any more. Then Old-man put his foot on the Mountain-lion's back, and, still holding the tail, stretched that out until the tail was nearly as long as the body.

"There, you thief -- now you are too long and lean to get fat, and you shall always look just like that. Your children shall all grow to look the same way, just to pay you for your stealing from the man that made you. Come on with me"; and he dragged the poor Lion back to the place where the fire was, and there rolled him in the hot ashes, singeing his robe till it looked a great deal like burnt hair. Then Old-man stuck the Lion's nose against the burnt logs and blackened it some -- that is why his face looks as it does to-day.

Cat's EyesThe Mountain-lion was lame and sore, but Old-man scolded him some more and told him that it would take lots more food to keep him after that, and that he would have to work harder to get his living, to pay for what he had done. Then he said, "go now, and remember all the Mountain-lions that ever live shall look just as you do." And they do, too!

That is the story -- that is why the Mountain-lion is so long and lean, but he is no bigger thief than Old-man, nor does he tell any more lies. Ho!

Print and Color Your Own Mountain Lion Picture
To hear the Mountain Lion's Roar, click here

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Mountain Lion (mountain lion concolor)

Mountain Lion (adult)The mountain lion, the second largest cat in the Americas, is a large cat and (apart from its size) is a perfect example of the basic feline type, without any particular specilization. It has spots only while young, with the adult coloration almost completely monochrome, with only slight indication of pattern in the fur. Male mountain lions can reach up to 8 feet in total length and weigh in excess of 220 lbs. Females are smaller, averaging slightly over 6 feet in length and up to 140 lbs.

Mountain lion kittens are born with a pattern of spots on their fur. This helps them blend into the landscape so that other predators can't find them. These spots fade away as the cat matures. The original scientific name given to the cat was Felis concolor, which literally means "the cat of one color". Mountain lions were called the "cat of one color" because adult mountain lions are solid colored and not covered in a pattern of spots or stripes like so many other wild cats are.

The head of the mountain lion is small in relation to the size of the body. Ears are small and rounded; darker colored on the back and tufted with light-colored fur across the front. The face of the mountain lion is quite distinctive. The muzzle is a creamy white color and is framed in a deep, rich brown. The mountain lion has large eyes that are rimmed with black.

Mountain Lion in SnowThe mountain lion's long, powerful legs allows it to jump extraordinary distances. The large, heavily padded paws are equipped with retractable claws. One of the mountain lion's best distinguishing characteristics is its long, thick tail. The tail is the same color as the cat's body and is sometimes tipped in dark brown or black.

People sometimes confuse the bobcat with the mountain lion . Both cats are found in the Americas, but the bobcat is smaller than the mountain lion, usually weighing about 11-19 pounds. The bobcat also has a very short tail. Bobcats are generally not of a solid color like the mountain lion, but are usually spotted. They also have tufts of fur on their ears and have a ruff of fur along the side of the face.

Mountain lions have the broadest distribution of any land mammal in the Western Hemisphere with the exception of humans. The mountain lion's range extends from Canada down to Patagonia in the tip of South America.

Mountain Lion KittenAs you might guess, this wide range of land encompasses many different types of habitat. In Canada and the Pacific Northwest, mountain lions can be found in heavily forested areas. In the southwest United States, mountain lions can be found in desert areas, mountainous areas and in scrubby brushlands. The endangered Florida panther can be found in upper dry land areas and low wetland areas. mountain lions can also be found in the tropical jungles of Mexico.

The mountain lion is an animal that is almost completely carnivorous; that is, their diet consists almost entirely of meat. Compared with other carnivores, cats have relatively short digestive tracts. It has been suggested that cats have evolved this way because of their hunting behaviors and need for a light, compact body. Because of their short digestive tracts, mountain lions need a diet that is rich in easily digestible protein and fat.

In general, the most important part of the mountain lion's diet is deer, but mountain lions are opportunistic feeders. They will feed on other prey if it is readily available or if the deer population is low. Mountain lions also have a wide distribution and live in many different types of habitats, so their diets are dependent on the prey items that are available in their habitat.

In the southwestern United States, mountain lions prey on deer, peccaries, rabbits, marmots, beaver, porcupine, and birds. In the Pacific Northwest, mule deer and elk are the primary prey. In Florida, white-tailed deer and wild hogs are the preferred prey.

Mountain lions are opportunistic and will feed on other prey items if they are abundant or if preferred prey items are scarce. In Idaho, mountain lions feed mainly on mule deer and elk, but also frequently prey on Columbia ground squirrels during the warmer summer months. In Nevada, the mountain lion occasionally augments its diet with wild horses and bighorn sheep . In British Columbia, the snowshoe hare may compose over 25% of the mountain lion's diet in years of peak abundance.

Mountain LionMountain lion attacks on humans are unusual, but they have happened. This does not mean that you should live in fear and it definitely does not mean that mountain lions should be wiped out of the area for the safety of humans. What it does mean is that people are now in the mountain lion's territory. This is where the animal lives, eats, and sleeps. It is important to understand the nature of this cat so that accidents don't happen.

Attacks may occur because the cat is simply reacting to a stimulus. It sees an object moving and it pounces. This is important to keep in mind, because if a mountain lion sees a person as a human, instead of mistaking it for prey, it will probably leave the person alone. Healthy, wild mountain lions want nothing to do with humans and will usually go out of their way to avoid contact. If people can learn to respect the mountain lion's habits, they will not need to live in fear. Hopefully, they will also learn to develop an appreciation for this magnificent cat and its important role in the ecosystem.

If you live or play in mountain lion country, you should learn what to do so that if an encounter does happen you will be prepared.

  • DON'T FEED WILDLIFE: By feeding deer, raccoons or other wildlife in your yard, you will inadvertently attract mountain lions, which prey upon them.
  • DEER-PROOF YOUR LANDSCAPE: Avoid using plants that deer prefer to eat; if your landscaping attracts deer, mountain lions may be close by.
  • LANDSCAPE FOR SAFETY: Remove dense and/or low-lying vegetation that would provide good hiding places for mountain lions, especially around children's play areas; make it difficult for mountain lions to approach your yard unseen.
  • INSTALL OUTDOOR LIGHTING: Keep the perimeter of your house well lit at night--especially along walkways--to keep any approaching mountain lions visible.
  • KEEP PETS SECURE: Roaming pets are easy prey for hungry mountain lions. Either bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other mountain lion prey.
  • KEEP LIVESTOCK SECURE: Where practical, place livestock in enclosed sheds and barns at night, and be sure to secure all outbuildings.
  • KEEP CHILDREN SAFE: Keep a close watch on children whenever they play outdoors. Make sure children are inside before dusk and not outside before dawn. Talk with children about mountain lions and teach them what to do if they encounter one.

There's been very little research on how to avoid mountain lion attacks. But mountain lion attacks that have occurred are being analyzed in the hope that some crucial questions can be answered: Did the victim do something to inadvertently provoke an attack? What should a person who is approached by a mountain lion do--or not do? The following suggestions are based on studies of mountain lion behavior and analysis of attacks by mountain lions, tigers and leopards:

  • DO NOT HIKE ALONE: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.
  • KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE TO YOU: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within your sight at all times.
  • DO NOT APPROACH A LION: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • DO NOT RUN FROM A LION: Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.
  • DO NOT CROUCH DOWN OR BEND OVER: In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans standing nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat's prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. If you're in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.
  • DO ALL YOU CAN TO APPEAR LARGER: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.
  • FIGHT BACK IF ATTACKED: A hiker in Southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.
Common Names of the Mountain Lion  


Cougar Panther Painter


Screamer Kingcat Couguacuarana

Ghost Cat

Wildcat Klandaghi Tyger

Devil Cat

El Leon Koe-Ishto Katalgar

Long Tail

Swamp Devil Deer Tiger Catawampus


Big Cat Leon Americano  

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