Cougars on the Cliff: One Man's Pioneering Quest to Understand the Mythical Mountain Lion, A Memoir

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by Maurice Hornocker and David Johnson, 2023. Hardcover, 328 pages.

North America's biggest cat was once killed for bounty dollars, slaughtered with impunity and driven toward extinction. But today's cat of intrigue, despite our lingering fears and misconceptions, has returned to much of its native range in the western United States and gained respect as a predator integral and necessary to wild ecosystems.

This turnaround was triggered by the research and field studies of Maurice Hornocker. Cougars on the Cliff recounts the early years of his research (1964–1973) when he tracked lions following scent hounds and cat tracks in the snow — before telemetry was available. Hornocker was first to learn that mountain lions living in stable populations limit their own numbers through territoriality and a concept he called “mutual avoidance.” This insight flew in the face of long-held beliefs that cougars were prolific and wanton killers that needed to be controlled as vermin. Thanks to Hornocker’s work, today cougars can be found throughout the West and have even started to reclaim their place in eastern United States.

About the Authors

Maurice Hornocker, PhD, is a wildlife biologist best known for advancing our knowledge of the elusive mountain lion's behavior and ecology. During his fifty-five years of research in Idaho, New Mexico and Yellowstone National Park, he published numerous scientific papers about cougars and co-authored or edited books that include:“Yellowstone Cougars,” “Cougar: Ecology & Conservation,” and “Desert Puma. All three books won The Wildlife Society's annual Wildlife Publication Award in 2020, 2010 and 2002, respectively. His writing, research, and mountain lion photographs have appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, and National Wildlife magazines.

He and his colleagues have also conducted pioneering research on other big cat species throughout the world including Siberian tigers, jaguars, leopards, ocelots, lynx and bobcats. Hornocker and his wife, Leslie, live in Bellevue, Idaho, with their bird dogs, dressage horses, and a Manx cat named Redd.

David Johnson is a retired roving regional reporter-columnist for the Lewiston Tribune in Lewiston, Idaho. He holds bachelor's degrees in wildlife management from the University of Minnesota and journalism from the University of Idaho. Johnson lives with is wife, Linda Weiford, in Moscow, Idaho.