The dangers of a predatory lifestyle

Ross (1994) has described the fate of solitary predators, such as cougars. Cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions (Felis concolor), are almost unique among solitary predators in that they consistently seek prey larger than themselves. African lions, hyenas, wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), and wolves all practice cooperative hunting when attacking large prey. Most solitary hunters, such as weasels or foxes, generally prey on creatures smaller than themselves. Among the cats, leopards, cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), jaguars (Panthera onca), and lynxes also usually follow this pattern of attacking smaller animals.

Attacking large prey has the drawback that it can sometimes prove fatal for the hunter. Among Alberta cougars, there are some dramatic examples of what can go wrong in a violent struggle with a large prey animal. Aside from human hunters, these struggles are the main cause of death in this cougar population.

One young adult female suffered a broken back when the mule deer she was riding down a steep slope slammed into a pine tree. Another female was speared by a sharp branch when the elk that she eventually killed tried to shake her loose from its throat. An adult male cougar that attacked a bighorn sheep lost his footing in the struggle, and both fell to their death over a 27-meter cliff.

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