I'll admit that I lucked out when starting my research for Andromeda's Fall. A friend of mine is a bit of an expert on these incredible creatures. He gave me quite a bit of information, which I then supplemented with my own research. Many of the unique qualities mountain lions exhibit directly influenced how I ended up building the entire Shadowcat Nation world.
Below are just are a few examples of what I found interesting and how I applied these facts to the series:
Mountain lions are very much loners. Unlike African lions, they do not live in prides or any type of societal groupings. They may come together to mate, but, otherwise, they avoid each other. In fact, mountain lions encountering each other in the wild will fight, often to the death. It's not unusual to see a cougar missing an ear, more often than not from fighting with their own kind. Mothers do raise their kittens for 1-2 years.
Shadowcat Nation: This aspect of mountain lions' natures caused me some issues in that I needed my shifters to interact. In the series, disappearing natural environments (due to the same causes that are true today) are causing group-based shifters (like African lions and wolves) to attack the loners in order to gain their territories. Mountain lions must band together against the threat, creating the Shadowcat Nation. But their loner natures make for a tense situation. In addition, this new societal setup is relatively new, so they are still figuring out how it works.
Large Territorial Range
Mountain lions have the largest range of any mammal in the western hemisphere (excluding humans). They are found in areas stretching from Canada to Argentina. They used to roam all of the US, but humans have driven them out of the eastern areas and they are now only found in Western US and Florida. With such a large range, they thrive in multiple types of habitats - mountains, forests, swamps, high deserts, snow. Not only that, but cougars travel a larger distance than any other types of large cats. They can have territories that span as little as 10 square miles (which is more rare) and as much as 370 square miles. Most need at least 30 square miles
Shadowcat Nation: I decided to divide the Shadowcat Nation into 10 pride-like groups and name them Dares (after a little side research on naming animal groups). I made the Dares of the Shadowcat Nation spread out over the wild cats' natural range. Each Dare then has its own Alpha, its own enemies, and therefore its own focuses and needs.
Mountain lions don't mate for life. In fact, they only mate during the season; otherwise, all bets are off and they're more likely to fight.
Shadowcat Nation: I did keep this aspect of their wild nature. They might mate randomly and not for long. But I added some of their human nature in there as a competing impulse/imperative by giving some of them a desire to find a partner in life. In addition, I added a mystical kicker in the form of Fated Mates. A Seer will inform the pair if they are destined to mate for life.
A couple of other small facts that I thought were cool.... Cougars don't roar. They scream and purr or make a few other quieter sounds. More often than not, they're silent, even when fighting. They often attack from behind, and they are incredible fighters. Check out this video from YouTube of a mountain lion protecting her kitten from a bear.
I hope you enjoyed this walk down research lane as much as I did when going through it. Two of the more interesting websites I found were National Geographic and Defenders of Wildlife.
I can't tell you how glad I am that I took the time to research mountain lions before starting to write. Otherwise, my shifters would have been more like African lions, which they are not. Not only that, but I learned that research can lead to some great ideas in terms of world building and character interaction.
Look for Andromeda's Fall, the first book of the Shadowcat Nation series, to be released by The Wild Rose Press at a date TBD!!!