We present a review of cougar dispersal literature and the first evidence of natural (i.e., unmanipulated) homing behavior by a dispersing male cougar (Puma concolor) that sustained severe injuries crossing the northern Mojave Desert. Based on Global Positioning System and ground tracking data, the male traveled a total distance of 981.1 km at 5.03 km/d, including 170.31 km from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to the northwestern Grand Canyon, where he sustained severe injuries. The interkill interval increased from 7.1 ± 2.7 d while he was in his natal range to 17.5 ± 4.9 d during dispersal. While homing, the male appeared to consume only reptiles until he died, 33.7 km from his capture site. In desert environments where prey availability is low, homing behavior may be an important strategy for dispersing cougars, providing a mechanism for persistence when the best quality habitats they encounter are already occupied by adult residents. Therefore, managing for habitat connectivity can ensure successful homing as well as dispersal on a greater scale than has been previously suggested. Elucidating the mechanisms that trigger homing during dispersal may provide critical insight into animal movements often overlooked as mundane behavior.
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