Mountain Lions in the State of Texas

In Texas, it’s always open season on mountain lions. Even though human persecution has driven them locally extinct in the eastern part of the state, Texas mountain lion hunting is allowed year-round with no bag limits. While the famously large land mass of Texas could easily support over 6,000 mountain lions, the actual population is likely much lower than that due to overhunting and human encroachment into their habitat areas. There is no official population estimate for Texas lions.

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History

The History of Lions in Texas

Mountain lions are native to Texas and historically inhabited the Trans Pecos, the Hill Country, and other suitable places throughout the state. The first European settlers arrived in the Texas Hill country in the early 1800s and viewed mountain lions as a dangerous threat to their own survival as well as a predator threat to their livestock.

These settlers established measures for predator control by any means possible. Predator removal was steady and unforgiving from the early 1800s until the mid-1960s. Historical records show that this persecution drove Texas to near extirpation.

Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today’s Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.

What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the saber-toothed lion.

During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleontologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited Texas, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.

Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840’s, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.

Early History in Texas

Mountain lions inhabited the state of Texas before European settlers arrived and the Native Americans in the area hunted them for clothing, shelter and blankets. Some of the regional tribes include the Tonkawa, Kiowa and Apache. Apache men would grease their bodies with animal fat to disguise their human scent to be able to approach mountain lions and other mammals they were hunting. Many Southeastern tribes in the Texas territory had Panther clans, indicating that the mountain lion was a prevalent being in native tribal culture.

Early European settlers viewed the native mountain lions as a threat to life and livestock and a lethal predator removal program was quickly put in place. Any method of removal was fair game, including shooting, trapping poisoning and hounding. Private and government entities both encouraged and assisted these extirpation efforts and some involved a bounty.
By 1960, the fierce and unrelenting lethal removal of mountain lions and loss of habitat due to human development greatly reduced Texas’ lion population. Their distribution became generally limited to the Trans Pecos region of west Texas and to the Texas Hill country.

The need for concern over livestock predation in the Trans Pecos region has changed in recent years because the type of livestock has changed moreover from sheep to cattle. Originally, sheep ranching was common throughout the Trans Pecos region because of the animal’s ability to adapt to the rugged and coarse terrain. Since sheep are vulnerable to mountain lions and other predators, predator control remained deadly and aggressive. As the cattle industry in the state grew and replaced sheep, concerns for livestock safety relaxed somewhat although predator control programs have never gone away, even though data shows that mountain lions have a very small impact on cattle mortality. Texas cattle are less than 2% of a mountain lion’s diet.
Predator control in the Trans Pecos was, and still is, also used for perceived protection of big game species populations. The common misconception that killing more mountain lions will save more big game, i.e pronghorns, mule deer and desert bighorn sheep is promoted to protect and spur the big game trophy hunting industry in Texas.

Fur Trading Period

Mountain lions were among the furbearers sought for their skins during the booming fur trade that began in Texas in the mid-nineteenth century. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/tcf01 Two brothers, George and Charles, were the first white settlers in the Waco region and established Barnard’s Trading Post in 1844 on the Tehuacana Creek overlooking the Brazos Valley. There they did a brisk business in the fur trade. Wildlife was abundant in Texas and between 1844 and 1853, at least 75,000 deer hides alone were traded through the post. Besides deer and mountain lion, black bear, bison and beaver were also desirable for trade. Hides and furs were packed into bales and transported to Houston by ox cart where it is reported that the going price for 100 pounds of fur was two dollars.

Bounty Period

Both government and private bounties were offered on mountain lions during the early years of the state’s predator control program.

Unregulated Hunting

There has never been a closed season on mountain lions in Texas. Hunters and trappers may voluntarily submit harvest reports when they kill a mountain lion, but most do not, making historic data on the numbers of lions killed by hunting and trapping in Texas a guessing game.

Sport and Recreational Hunting

Texas has never reclassified the mountain lion as a game species and so there has never been a hunting season for them. As in the times of the early settlers, they may be trapped and shot in unlimited numbers year-round and are still considered open game.

 

Status

Texas is home to the southern and eastern extent of the U. S. mountain lion population. Mountain lions continue to survive, despite unlimited hunting, habitat loss, and no legal protections. In fact, mountain lions may be hunted or trapped at any time using any legal method in Texas. Though the survive in the western portion of the state, habitat loss and fragmentation, extreme reductions in prey populations, and unregulated hunting and trapping, have led to its extirpation from the eastern portion of the state by the early 1900’s.

Starting in the 90s, mountain lions started recolonizing East Texas. It’s possible that mountain lions could use habitat in East Texas to recolonize previously occupied habitat in Arkansas and Louisiana, though it is unlikely given Texas’s current policies towards mountain lions and expanding human development. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists predict that human development in East Texas will continue increase, further fragmenting already imperiled habitat.

Texas Parks and Wildlife do not attempt to create a population estimate. They rely on sightings to determine mountain lion population status. The state claims that, against all odds, the population of mountain lions in Texas is increasing. You can decide for yourself whether you think they have adequate data to make that claim.

In 1973, Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a ‘consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation.’ Unfortunately, these protections don’t apply to mountain lions in Texas.

Habitat

Texas Cougar Habitat

Before Europeans settled the area, mountain lions ranged across Texas and throughout neighboring states. Predator control, residential development, oil fields, and other forms of habitat loss have limited mountain lions to the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas. There are occasionally sightings outside of this area, but there isn’t any indication that there are established populations in any other part of the state.

Hostile conditions and extremely lax hunting laws mean that mountain lions are unlikely to expand into areas outside of their current range without significant changes in mountain lion management policies.

Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Texas is governed by the Texas Statutes – the state’s collection of all the laws passed by its legislature. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the State of Texas.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website.

These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the names “mountain lion,” “cougar,” and “panther” to accomplish your searches.

You may also use Findlaw for Legal Professionals at this website.

Texas’ wildlife regulations can be found in the Texas Administrative Code. The regulations are set by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

The Legislature

The Texas Legislature is the state’s bicameral legislature. The lower chamber – the House of Representatives – is made up of 150 members who serve 2-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the Texas House of Representatives since 2003. The upper chamber – the Senate – consists of 31 members who serve 4-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the Texas State Senate since 1997. In order to help you contact your state legislators, the Texas House of Representatives maintains this website and the Texas State Senate maintains this website.

State law requires the Texas Legislature to meet at noon on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year. There do not appear to be provisions for sessions in even-numbered years. The Texas Constitution states that regular sessions may not last longer 140 days. The governor may call special legislative sessions, which are limited to 30 days.

Action

There are currently no Action Alerts for Texas. Be sure to check back often for action items in the state!

Story Map

Coming soon!

Library

Texas Cougar Files Sorted by Type

Scientific Research

  • Adams, R. Bill; Harveson, Louis A.; Robertson, Paul; Tewes, Michael E. & Hillje, James D., 2000, Reproduction and Dispersal of Mountain Lions in Southern Texas
  • Adams, R. Bill; Pitman, James C. & Harveson, Louis A., 2006, Texas tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri) consumed by a mountain lion (Puma concolor) in southern Texas
  • Atkinson, Don Eugene, 1976, Population Dynamics and Predator-Prey Relationships of the Carmen Mountains White-Tailed Deer
  • Cross, Joshua G., 2016, Survival and Habitat utilization of Desert Bughorn Sheep Translocated to the Santiago Mountains, Texas
  • Cutler, Tim J., 2002, Bilateral eyelid agenesis repair in a captive Texas cougar
  • Dalquest, Walter W., 1968, Mammals of North-Central Texas
  • Davis, W. B. & Robertson, J. L., 1944, The Mammals of Culberson County
  • Davis, William B. & Taylor, Walter P., 1939, The Bighorn Sheep of Texas
  • Debaca, Robert S., 2008, Distribution of Mamals in the Davis Mountains, Texas and Surrounding Areas
  • Dennison, Catherine C., 2013, Use of Camera Traps To Determine Mountain Lion Density and
  • Dennison, Catherine C.; Harveson, Patricia Moody & Harveson, Louis A., 2016, Assessing habitat relationships of mountain lions and their prey in the Davis Mountains, Texas
  • Gilad, Oranit, 2006, Behavioral ecology and conservation of large mammals: historical distribution, reintroduction and the effects of fragmented habitat
  • Gilad, Oranit; Janecka, Jan E.; Armstrong, Fred; Tewes, Michael & Honeycutt, Rodney L., 2011, Cougars in Guadelupe Mountains National Park, Texas: Estimates of Occurence and Distribution Using Analysis of DNA
  • Harveson, Louis A.; Kleberg, Ceasar; Texas, A. & Box, Campus, 1995, Mountain Lion ResearchIn Texas: Past, Present, and Future
  • Harveson, Louis A.; Route, Bill; Armstrong, Fred; Silvy, Nova J. & Tewes, Michael E., 1999, Trends in Populations of Mountain Lion in Carlsbad Caverns and Guadelupe Mountains National Parks
  • Harveson, Louis A.; Tewes, Michael E.; Silvy, Nova J.; Rutledge, Jimmy & Naturalist, Southwestern, 2016, Prey Use by Mountain Lions in Southern Texas
  • Harveson, P. M.; Harveson, L. A.; Hernandez-Santin, L.; Tewes, M. E.; Silvy, N. J. & Pittman, M. T., 2012, Characteristics of two mountain lion Puma concolor populations in Texas, USA
  • Hernandez-santin, Author Lorna; Harveson, Patricia M. & Harveson, Louis A., 2012, Suitable Habitats for Cougars (Puma concolor) in Texas and Northern Mexico
  • Hock, Raymond J., 1955, Southwestern Exotic Felids
  • Holbrook, J. D.; Deyoung, R. W.; Janecka, J. E.; Tewes, M. E.; Honeycutt, R. L. & Young, J. H., 2012, Genetic diversity, population structure, and movements of mountain lions (Puma concolor) in Texas
  • Holbrook, Joseph D.; Deyoung, Randy W.; Tewes, Michael E. & Young, John H., 2012, Demographic history of an elusive carnivore: Using museums to inform management
  • Holbrook, Joseph Dale, 2011, Exploring Mountain Lion Ecology in Texas Using Genetic Techniques
  • Kikuchi, Yoko; Chomel, Bruno B.; Kasten, Rickie W.; Martenson, Janice S.; Swift, Pamela K. & Brien, Stephen J. O., 2004, Seroprevalence of Toxoplasma gondii in American free-ranging or captive pumas ( Felis concolor ) and bobcats ( Lynx rufus )
  • Krausman, Paul R. & Bruce D Leopold, 1986, Diets of 3 Predators in Big Bend National Park , Texas
  • Kuhn, Steve; Dalquest, Walter & Frederick B Stangl, 1993, Mammals from the beach mountains of Culberson County , Trans ­ Pecos Texas
  • Leopold, Bruce David, 2016, Ecology of the Desert Mule Deer in Big Bed National Park, Texas (Predation, Habitat, Diet.)
  • List, Rurik, 2007, A Barrier to our Shared Enviornment: The Border Fence Between the United States and Mexico
  • Louis Allen Harveson, 1997, Ecology of a Mountain Lion Population in Southern Texas
  • Michael E. Tewes, 2000, Historical Biogeography of Wild Cats and their enviornment in Texas
  • Padcard, Jane M.; Ruth, Toni K. & Skiles, Raymond, 1991, Behavior of High Risk Mountains Lions in Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Pena, Iliana A., 2002, Asessing Public knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs regarding mountain lions in Texas
  • Pittman, M. T.; Guzman, G. J. & McKinney, B. P., 1995, Ecology of the Mountain Lion on the Big Bend Ranch State Park in the Trans-Pecos Region of Texas
  • Pozio, E.; Pence, D. B.; La Rosa, G.; Casulli, A. & Henke, S. E., 2001, Trichinella Infection in Wildlife of the Southwestern United States
  • Robertson, Paul & Altman, Charles David, 2000, Texas Mountain Lion Status Report
  • Rominger, Em, 2007, Culling mountain lions to protect ungulate populations–some lives are more sacred than others
  • Roy McBride, 2000, The Effects of Predator Control on Mountain Lions in Texas
  • Russ, William B. & Parks, Texas, 1995, The Status of Mountain Lions in Texas
  • Sayre, Nathan F. & Knight, Richard L., 2009, Potential effects of united states-mexico border hardening on ecological and human communities in the malpai borderlands: Diversity
  • Smith, Thomas E.; Duke, Ronald R. & Kutilek, Michael J., 1984, The Ecology of the Mountain Lion in the Guadelupe Mountains of Texas and New Mexico
  • Stiner, Mary C. & Munro, Natalie D., 2012, Carcass damage and digested bone from mountain lions ( Felis concolor ): implications for carcass persistence on landscapes as a function of prey age
  • Stiner, Mary C.; Munro, Natalie D. & Sanz, Montserrat, 2012, Carcass damage and digested bone from mountain lions (Felis concolor): Implications for carcass persistence on landscapes as a function of prey age
  • Thompson, Ron; Harveson, Patricia Moody; Harveson, Louis A.; Milani, Dana & Dennison, Katie, 2012, Ecology of Mountain Lions in the Davis Mountains: Assessing Impacts on Prey Populations
  • Tiefenbacher, John P.; Shuey, Michelle L. & Butler, David R., 2000, A Spatial Evaluation of Cougar-Human Encountern in U.S. National Parks: the Cases of Glacier and Big Bend National Parks
  • Wade, Dale A.; Nunley, Gary L.; Caroline, Milton & Hawthorne, Donald W., 1984, History and Status of Predator Control in Texas
  • Wagner, Matt, 1996, Texas
  • Walker, Christopher W.; Harveson, Louis A.; Pittman, Michael T.; Tewes, Michael E. & Honeycutt, Rodney L., 2000, Microsatellite Variation in Two Populations of Mountain Lions ( Puma concolor ) in Texas
  • Young JR, John Hillis, 2009, Estimating Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) Population Parameters in Texas
  • Young, John H.; Tewes, Michael E.; Haines, Aaron M.; Guzman, Gilbert; Demaso, Stephen J.; Young, John H.; Tewes, Michael E.; Haines, Aaron M.; Guzman, Gilbert & Demaso, Stephen J., 2010, Survival and Mortality of Cougars in the Trans-Pecos Region

Agency Reports

  • Leavitt, Daniel Jacob, 2003, Mountain Lion Incidents in Big Bend National Park: 1953-2003
  • Locke, Shawn; Brewer, Clay & Harveson, Louis, 2005, Identifying Lanscapes For Desert Bighorn Sheep Translocations in Texas
  • Mckinney, Billy, 2010, Mountain Lions, Deer and Predator Control
  • Russ, William B., 1995, The Status of Mountain Lions in Texas
  • Thompson, Bruce C., 1984, Texas
  • Young, John, 2010, Texas Mountain Lion Status Report
  • Young, John, 2008, Texas Mountain Lion Status Report

Legal

Other

  • Rominger, Em, 2007, Culling mountain lions to protect ungulate populations–some lives are more sacred than others
  • Wagner, Matt, 1996, Proceedings of the Fifth Mountain Lion Workshop