Yellowstone Cougar Project

Project Overview

The Yellowstone Cougar Project monitors Yellowstone’s top feline predator — the elusive cougar — by integrating year-round field work with cutting-edge tools. This project aims to understand population trends, predation patterns, habitat selection, and behavior using tools like GPS accelerometer collars, remote cameras, and noninvasive genetic surveys. This knowledge helps answer questions regarding the role cougars play in predator-prey dynamics, competition with wolves and bears, and how Yellowstone’s predator diversity influences the Park’s ecology. There are few places left to truly understand how carnivores coexist, compete, interact, and impact their ecosystem.

Fast Facts

  • The cougar (Puma concolor) is also referred to as a mountain lion, catamount, or panther.

  • Up to 45 cougars currently inhabit northern Yellowstone.

  • Litters range from three–four kittens; 50% survive first year.

  • Prey primarily on elk and mule deer, plus smaller mammals, especially marmots.


Cougars, along with wolves, were killed throughout the U.S. as part of predator removal campaigns in the early 1900s. Cougars were eliminated from the park around the same time wolves were in the 1930s, but the species overall survived in the West. Working in their favor were the large cat’s secretive nature and preference for rugged terrain where they are difficult to detect.

The cougar is one of the largest cats in North America and native to the Greater Yellowstone. They are rarely seen, but Yellowstone contains the perfect habitat for cougars. After a 50-year absence, they reestablished a viable, year-round population in northern Yellowstone in the 1980s. This natural reestablishment occurred during a period of high elk abundance and wolf absence, resulting in relatively rapid population growth. With the cougars’ homecoming, in addition to wolf re-introduction in the mid-1990s, Yellowstone returned to being an intact ecosystem with all its native, large carnivores back on the landscape. 

  • Biologist collaring a Yellowstone cougar.


  • The project has established a remote camera grid of 67 stations with 136 remote cameras for monitoring throughout northern Yellowstone to aid in population estimation.
  • GPS-collared cougars, snow tracking, and genetic surveys continue to provide periodic population estimates for Yellowstone.
  • GPS collars have built-in accelerometers that allow biologists to measure fine-scale behaviors such as hunting, feeding, and traveling, as well as the ability to measure energetic expenditures of cougars. Project lead Dan Stahler has referred to these accelerometers as “fit bits for cougars.”
  • The team studies predation patterns, track reproductive success, and interactions with other species.

How You Can Help

Since 2014, Yellowstone Forever has provided the primary support for the Yellowstone Cougar Project. The Yellowstone Cougar Project relies on donations from Yellowstone Forever’s members and corporate partners to supply the technology and support the skilled field staff needed to complete this crucial research and fund the project.

Ongoing support is critical to the efficacy of the Cougar Project and our understanding of these remarkable animals.

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