Mountain Lions in New Jersey

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: March 8, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Mountain lions, also known as cougars or pumas, are large cats that can be found in many parts of the Americas, from Canada to South America.
  • Mountain lions are solitary animals that are primarily active at night. They are known for their stealth and agility, which allows them to stalk and ambush their prey.
  • Mountain lions are apex predators, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystems.

New Jersey underwent a significant amount of fast suburbanization in the second half of the 20th century. It contains various geographical features and is equipped with several significant rivers, lakes, and fishing ponds as well. But what types of wild cats are roaming the state? Are there mountain lions in New Jersey?

Decades ago, mountain lions were widely distributed throughout the Americas, but intensive hunting has degraded their population.

So, what’s their current status in New Jersey? Read on to find out.

What Do Mountain Lions Look Like?

Deadliest Animals in America

Mountain lions have small, rounded ears on their tiny skulls, and their faces are short.

©iStock.com/SandmanXX

Similar to big, short-haired domestic cats, mountain lions have small, rounded ears on their tiny skulls, and their faces are short. Their lengthy necks and tails are attached to huge, sleek bodies. A normal mountain lion can range from three feet and three inches to five feet and five inches in length.

The shoulders of mountain lions stand two to two-and-a-half feet above the ground. Females typically weigh between 80 and 100 pounds as adults, whereas males typically weigh between 125 and 160 pounds. The legs of the mountain lion are powerful, built for a sudden rise in speed, and designed for pouncing.

Animals Found in New Jersey

New Jersey may be a small state, but it is home to a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife. Here are a few examples of the animals that can be found in New Jersey:

  • White-tailed Deer: White-tailed deer are one of the most commonly seen animals in New Jersey. These graceful creatures can be found in forests, fields, and even suburban neighborhoods throughout the state.
  • American Black Bear: Black bears are another common sight in New Jersey, particularly in the northern part of the state. These large mammals are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals, and can weigh up to 600 pounds.
  • Eastern Gray Squirrel: The eastern gray squirrel is a small, agile rodent that is found throughout New Jersey. These squirrels are known for their bushy tails and their ability to leap from tree to tree with ease.
  • Bald Eagle: The bald eagle, our national bird, is also found in New Jersey. These majestic raptors can often be seen soaring over the state’s waterways and wetlands.
  • Timber Rattlesnake: The timber rattlesnake is a venomous snake that is found in the mountainous regions of northern New Jersey. While they are rarely encountered by humans, it is important to give these snakes a wide berth if you do happen to come across one.

These are just a few examples of the many animals that can be found in New Jersey. From the densely populated cities to the quiet rural areas, there is always a chance to encounter some of the state’s fascinating wildlife.

Are There Mountain Lions in New Jersey?

puma vs Mountain lion

There are no mountain lions in New Jersey.

©Scott E Read/Shutterstock.com

To answer simply, no native mountain lions live in New Jersey today. The Garden State has never formally recorded a mountain lion in the state in contemporary times, despite numerous purported “sightings.”

The mountain lion, however, is the most frequently sighted species outside New Jersey. Despite today’s widespread assertions, there have been no verifiable reports of mountain lion sightings in the state in recent times. However, they used to live there.

According to historical sources, mountain lions were present throughout the state during European colonization. Unfortunately, they went extinct in the early 19th century, with the final animals being wiped out in the Ocean, Cape May, and Atlantic counties between 1830 and 1840.

Mountain lions previously roamed all of New Jersey and migrated between New Jersey and neighboring states before European settlers arrived. Although woods, slopes, and the banks of timbered streams would have made for ideal habitat, mountain lions could have survived anywhere prey was abundant. The decline and eventual extirpation of mountain lions in New Jersey were caused by various factors, including natural hunting, the change of wildlands to agricultural and human settlement, highways and roads, and other habitat degradation.

Mountain Lion Sightings in New Jersey

There isn’t a year that goes by that residents of New Jersey don’t hear about a man who either says he saw or heard that there was a sighting of a mountain lion recently wandering the state’s fields and woods. Mountain lions are not returning, which is either unfortunate or fortunate, depending on how much you truly want them to.

Most sightings reported in recent years were either hoaxes or simple errors. But it makes sense in certain ways that so many people would want to think or say that this large cat has returned to New Jersey. They are wonderful creatures that embody what it means to be an apex predator — elegant yet dangerous, covert yet fearless. And to spot one in the wild is marvelous too. A mountain lion sighting would be comparable to witnessing an ivory-billed woodpecker, let’s face it – almost impossible, but truly incredible.

Numerous articles regarding “sightings” of a “big cat” have appeared online over the years. One was reportedly a mountain lion in Camden County. The Division of Fish and Wildlife of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection occasionally receives information. It conducts investigations, but its conclusion has always been that these large cats are not mountain lions.

Bobcats are the largest cats found in New Jersey. Domestic cats, bobcats, and mountain lions are very different from one another and shouldn’t be confused with one another. 

Are Mountain Lions Common in the United States?

Mountain lions, once found throughout the country, are now primarily confined to 14 western states, except for a small, endangered population in Florida. Five small communities just east of the Rockies regained a tenuous presence in the 1980s and 1990s, but their future is uncertain.

Mountain lions have inhabited all of North and South America since humans crossed the land bridge from Asia 40,000 years ago. In the United States, there are thought to be between 20,000 and 30,000 mountain lions. It is difficult to determine the precise population size of mountain lions because they are solitary and elusive. While some species travel long distances in quest of prey, others settle in one place and breed there.

Where Do Mountain Lions Live in the Americas?

The mountain lion was the most prevalent and widely distributed mammal in the Americas. However, years of heavy hunting in the US have caused a sharp decline in their number. Due to hunting restrictions and conservation efforts, mountain lions may be able to regain some of their historical ranges. The eastern United States doesn’t have resident lion populations. However, some states occasionally see cats merely passing through.

In addition to the highest snow-covered mountains, wetlands, woodlands, and deserts, mountain lions can live in almost any place. Sometimes these felines venture as far as the northeastern states.

What Wild Cat Lives in New Jersey?

bobcat standing on top of a rock

Bobcats are most active at dawn and dusk.

©iStock.com/twildlife

The only wild cat species roaming around New Jersey today is the bobcat. They range in size from 15 to 35 pounds, have spotty coats, and are easily recognized by the long fur tufts that grow from the tops of their ears. These cats were once widespread throughout the state, but now, Warren, Sussex, Passaic, Morris, and Hunterdon counties are where you may find them most frequently.

The bobcat is regarded as endangered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. This is due to increased urbanization and the subsequent loss of wild cat-friendly habitats across the state. Bobcats often spend most of the night hunting mice, rabbits, and small birds.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Chris Alcock/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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Sources
  1. Endangered New Jersey, Available here: https://endangerednj.blogspot.com/2019/08/is-that-mountain-lion-i-see-wandering.html#:~:text=None%20of%20them%20inhabit%20our,NJ%20is%20the%20mountain%20lion
  2. Endangered New Jersey, Available here: https://endangerednj.blogspot.com/2020/10/no-mountain-lions-in-new-jersey-so-far.html
  3. Excited Cats, Available here: https://excitedcats.com/wild-cats-in-new-jersey/