Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Wildlife Biology

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Elizabeth C. Metcalf

Commitee Members

Creagh Breuner, Hugh Robinson


puma concolor, stress, tolerance, survey, cortisol


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Integrative Biology | Other Sociology | Zoology


Evidence suggests that cougars (Puma concolor) are beginning to recolonize their traditional range in the Midwestern and Eastern US, returning to a landscape and a social environment that have changed drastically in a century of absence. Any hope of the cougar’s persistence depends on both human tolerance of their presence and on cougar tolerance of disrupted habitat. In this thesis, we took advantage of diverse cougar policy in place in the Western US to explore variation in human attitudes and acceptability of cougars and in the cougar stress response. We validated a process to identify and extract cortisol from cougar hair and examined relationships between cougar stress and intrinsic, environmental, and anthropogenic variables. We also validated a definition of human tolerance adapted from the sociological literature – “putting up with wildlife and wildlife behaviors you don’t like” – and tested its fit on data gathered from a social survey of rural communities in the West. After operationalizing tolerance, we explored whether permitting cougar hunting was likely to improve tolerance among the general public. In Chapter 2, we found that age class, season, precipitation, human population density, and hunting all significantly influenced cougar hair cortisol content, with cougars demonstrating higher cortisol when hunted and when inhabiting areas of lower human density. In Chapter 3, we identified four distinct typologies characterized by attitudes toward and acceptability of cougars among the general public – the “enthusiastic,” the “pragmatic,” the “intolerant,” and the “tolerant.” Finally, in Chapter 4, we found that while the general public had high attitudes and acceptability of cougars, hunters in California, where cougar hunting is banned, were intolerant of cougars compared to hunters elsewhere. Wildlife managers in eastern states should be aware that cougars do physiologically respond to anthropogenic disturbance and that hunters may chafe under restrictive cougar hunting regulations.



© Copyright 2017 Lara Brenner