A puma has been known to follow the track of travellers for days together, only daring to show itself at rare intervals, and never endeavoring to make an attack except through stealth. The animal will often approach cautiously upon a traveller until sufficiently near to make its fatal spring; but if the pursued party suddenly turn round and face the crawling creature, the beast becomes discomfited at once, and will retreat from the gaze which seems to it a positive terror. So long as a puma can be kept in sight, no danger need be feared from the animal but it will improve every opportunity of springing unobservedly upon a heedless passer by. The total length of the puma is six feet and a half, of which the tail occupies a little over two feet. Its color is of a uniform light tawny tint, fading into light grey on the under parts, and the tip of the tail [Page 162] is black. The puma is one of the few members of the Cat tribe, which are without the usual spots or stripes so observable in the tiger and leopard. The lion has the same uniformity of color, and it is perhaps partly on that account that the panther is so often known as the American lion. In infancy the young pumas possess decided tiger-like markings, and leopard-like spots, but these disappear altogether as the animal increases in size. The cougar has learned by experience a wholesome fear of man, and as civilization has extended throughout our country, the animals have been forced to retire from the neighborhood of human habitations and hide themselves in thick, uncultivated forest lands.
Sometimes, however, the animal, urged by fierce hunger, will venture on a marauding expedition for several miles, and although not an object of personal dread to the inhabitants, he often becomes a pestilent neighbor to the farmer, committing great ravages among his flocks and herds, and making sad havoc in his poultry yard. It is not the fortune of every puma, however, to reside in the neighborhood of such easy prey as pigs, sheep and poultry, and the greater number of these animals are forced to depend for their [Page 163] subsistence on their own success in chasing or surprising the various animals on which they feed.
When a puma is treed by hunters, it is said to show great skill in selecting a spot wherein it shall be best concealed from the gazers below, and will even draw the neighboring branches about its body to hide itself from the aim of the hunter’s rifle. While thus lying upon the branches the beast is almost invisible from below, as its fur, when seen, harmonizes so well with the the bark which covers the boughs, that the one can scarcely be distinguished from the other.