Canada has three species of native wild cats, the Bobcat, the Canadian Lynx and the Cougar, all of which are threatened or endangered in certain areas.
Several types of wild cat are found in Canada. These cats are shy and solitary, and they tend to hide from people. Canada’s wild cats have suffered significantly as a result of human persecution and fur trading.
The Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
Found throughout lower Canada, the United States and Mexico, Bobcats are most abundant in Nova Scotia. With a soft reddish brown or light gray, black-spotted coat, Bobcats are relatively small but extremely muscular and stocky. These cats have been nearly eliminated in many parts of the Midwestern U.S. due to habitat destruction and persecution.
Bobcats are cantankerous, solitary, secretive and adaptable. They are great climbers and swimmers that will eat almost any type of prey, and although they are often killed due to a belief that they pose a danger to livestock, they are more inclined to go after small mammals that attack farmers’ crops, such as rabbits and mice. Despite its small size, a Bobcat can also take down a deer.
Bobcats only associate with one another to mate and otherwise live alone. Females have litters of 1-6 kittens, usually raising their young in a den, under a ledge, in a dense thicket or within a hollow log as other Canadian wild cats do. When males grow up, they go off to establish their own territories far away, whereas female Bobcats usually settle near their mothers. In the wild, Bobcats live 12-13 years, but in captivity can last as long as 33.
Fur traders kill many Bobcats to meet the high demand for their skins, and as a result, the Bobcat is a threatened species.
The Canadian Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
The Canadian Lynx, with its facial ruff, short tail and black tufted ears, is sometimes mistaken for a Bobcat, but can be differentiated by its black-tipped tail. The Canadian Lynx is found in Northern forests throughout Canada and a few areas of the United States.
The Lynx is usually a night hunter, though may hunt in the daytime when its preferred prey, the snowshoe hare, is scarce. Other food sources include rodents, deer fawns, ducks, pheasants, grouse and the occasional domestic sheep. A Lynx can wait for hours to ambush its prey, and females and their kittens may hunt cooperatively.
Females have 1-6 kittens, but when there is little prey available, they are unlikely to conceive at all or may spontaneously abort. When Lynx kittens leave their mother, they often spend weeks or months hunting and travelling with one another before parting ways.
The Canadian Lynx lives for up to 15 years in the wild and 21 in captivity. Trapping of Lynx is permitted in all provinces except Nova Scotia, and many trappers still use cruel leg hold traps. In the U.S., the Lynx is considered an endangered species.
The Cougar (Puma concolor)
An endangered species, Cougars are protected in most provinces of Canada, though Alberta allows quota hunting and BC allows limited hunting. Cougars can be found from Northern BC to the bottom of South America. These big cats have short, coarse coats that vary from place to place, ranging from buff to slate gray to reddish brown. Cougars are extremely agile and athletic, able to climb and swim, though they avoid doing the latter unless they have no choice.
Unlike many animals, cougars do not have a particularly acute sense of smell and instead rely primarily on sight. Mostly nocturnal, cougars hunt a wide variety of prey, including elk, beaver, porcupine, deer, moose, ground squirrel, marmot, rodents, rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, wild hogs, grasshoppers and bats, as well as the occasional domestic farm animal.
Cougars give birth to 1-6 kittens in a litter, which remain with their mother for up to two years. Kittens may travel and hunt cooperatively for some time after leaving their mothers. The life span of Cougars can be up to 21 years.
Once revered by the ancient Peruvians, the New Mexican Cohiti Indians and the Great Lakes First Nations tribes, the Cougar has not fared so well with humans in more recent history. Ranchers and farmers have used traps, poisons, guns, snares and hunting dogs to slaughter them, and in 1988, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program facilitated the killing of nearly 200 cougars.
Other names for cougar include Mountain Lion, Catamount, Mexican Lion, King Cat, Mountain Screamer, Mountain Devil and Red Tiger.
To learn more about wild cats, see the main Big Cats and Small Wild Cats page.