Mountain Lions in Maine: Do They Exist?

Female mountain lion chasing prey
© Michal Ninger/Shutterstock.com

Written by Jennifer Hollohan

Updated: July 21, 2023

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Rumors swirl online about the presence of mountain lions in Maine. Residents regularly share stories about awe-inspiring sightings of the majestic animal. There are countless news stories exploring these reports. And they only seem to be increasing over time. However, are they valid? Do mountain lions live in Maine?

Come along on our journey as we explore the question of whether or not mountain lions live in the northeastern state. But first, we will take a quick glimpse at what a mountain lion is and where the animal typically lives. 

What Are Mountain Lions?

Mountain lions (Puma concolor) belong to the Felidae (cat) family. It is one of the largest predators in the Western Hemisphere. Their common name varies by region. However, you may know them as cougars, panthers, catamounts, or pumas. 

These felines have beige or tawny fur, though some take on a reddish-orange coloring. The stomach and chest are lightly, typically light grey or white. And there are black accents on their snouts, around the eyes, the tips of the tail, and ears.

Adult male mountain lions are larger than females. The former average 140 pounds but can get as large as 225 pounds. And, while they average 7 feet long, they can reach up to 9 feet long. However, females average only 80-90 pounds.

The impressive animal prefers big game. Mountain lions enjoy hunting animals like elk and deer. However, they will also eat smaller prey like raccoons, coyotes, and mice. The large cats will also target any livestock or domesticated pet left outside and unprotected.

They are solitary and elusive animals. Females will keep their kittens around until they can venture out. And they pair up with males during mating season. Aside from that, adult mountain lions rarely overlap territory.

Mountain lion standing on thick tree branch

Mountain lions are very solitary creatures.

©Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock.com

Mountain Lion Habitat

The large cat has the broadest territory range of any mammal in the Americas. Historically, they lived everywhere between the Yukon and southern Chile. But over the last hundred years, habitat loss and aggressive hunting practices drastically reduced their population. Now, mountain lions still live in most of Central and South America. However, only 15 U.S. states have mountain lion breeding populations. 

Mountain lions love mountains, forests, deserts, and wetlands equally. They will gladly roam at sea level or climb up to 10,000 feet. The amazing animal is more concerned about the abundance of food than a particular environment. 

puma vs mountain lion

Mountain lions love rocky outcrops and cliffs, which allow them to hide from prey.

©Christina Moraes/Shutterstock.com

Mountain Lions and Their Historic Range in Maine

Eastern cougars (Puma concolor cougar), a subspecies of mountain lions, used to roam freely throughout Maine. They were a common sight historically. However, habitat destruction, growing human populations, and hunting practices ensured the large cats did not survive. They are officially listed as extirpated from Maine. 

Maine’s last known mountain lion died in 1932. And according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), there are no known breeding mountain lions living in the state currently. At the state and federal levels, the official position is that any mountain lion spotted in the state is either a Florida panther, wandered in from the western United States, or escaped captivity.

However, residents regularly report mountain lion sightings. Most get summarily dismissed for lacking evidence. 

cougar

The last mountain lion living in Maine got killed in the early 20th century.

©Evgeniyqw/Shutterstock.com

Mountain Lion Sightings in Maine

Although state officials insist there are few mountain lion sightings in Maine, residents are not convinced. There have been countless reports of a possible mountain lion over the last few decades. And while none are confirmed, they all provide plenty of fuel for mountain lion lore. 

In 2020, a local publication, the Northwoods Sporting Journal, solicited stories about potential mountain lion encounters. Editors were overwhelmed with over 20 sightings and sorted through them, publishing the most credible. 

The most intriguing story came from a retired biologist who worked for the California Fish and Game. His specialty was working with mountain lions in the western state, so it is safe to say he is familiar with the animals. He claims to have seen a black mountain lion only about 15 feet away. What makes this story particularly interesting is that, officially, there are no black mountain lions. Federal wildlife officials say there is no evidence of a black mountain lion, only black jaguars, which are extinct in North America.

There was, however, one relatively recent confirmed sighting. In 1996, lab tests confirmed the presence of a cougar in Cape Elizabeth. 

State and federal officials suggest that Western Cougars periodically make their way to the eastern state. But not everyone is convinced, especially since their neighbors to the north report increased cougar activity. Multiple Canadian provinces have confirmed mountain lions. 

So the debate rages on between witnesses who swear they saw a mountain lion and wildlife officials who claim there is not much credible evidence. One of the primary sticking points is that two other large cats do call Maine home — bobcats and the Canada Lynx. And in other parts of the country, these two are regularly mistaken for mountain lions. So without definitive physical proof or more high-quality photographic evidence, there is no solid answer to whether mountain lions live in Maine.

puma vs mountain lion

State officials receive regular reports of mountain lion sightings in Maine.

©S.R. Maglione/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Jennifer Hollohan is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on gardening, mammals, and travel. Jennifer has over twenty years of writing experience. She holds a Master of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, which she earned in 2005, and is a Herbalist. Jennifer lives in Colorado with her family. She loves hiking, admiring wildflowers, gardening, and making herbal tea.

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