Tracking a Mountain Lion's Soul through Science and Story

Expanded Edition

Leslie Patten
Foreword by Harley G. Shaw

310 pages
40 photographs, 1 illustration, 3 maps, 1 chart, index


October 2024


$24.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Leslie Patten had seen grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, deer, elk, and many other species in her years living next to Yellowstone National Park. Yet, like most visitors, she had never seen a mountain lion—the charismatic yet enigmatic predator also known as a cougar, panther, or puma. She had only detected their ethereal presence on the landscape, which left her pondering where they were and what they were up to. After five years, through her serendipitous encounters with their tracks and scat, the burning question remained: What is the essence of the mountain lion?

To understand an animal no one sees, Patten conducted more than one hundred interviews with biologists, conservation groups, state wildlife managers, houndsmen, and professional trackers. Slowly, a picture of the lion’s elusive nature emerged. Ghostwalker presents a complete picture of mountain lions in the West today, uncovering the intimacies of their secretive lifestyle as well as the issues they face in our changing world.

Author Bio

Leslie Patten has worked as a horticulturist, habitat specialist, and landscape designer. After moving to Wyoming, she has volunteered at the Buffalo Bill Museum of the West—preparing bird and mammal specimens and measuring wolf skulls for scientific research. Patten is the author of several books, including Shadow Landscape: Notes from the Field; The Wild Excellence: Notes from Untamed America; and Koda and the Wolves.


“Few animals embody more tensions than mountain lions: they are at once avatars of wildness and our neighbors in the urbanizing West, conspicuous in their signs yet practically invisible in the flesh, beings that humans have long both feared and revered. In Ghostwalker Leslie Patten braids history, biology, and wildlife management to reveal this elusive cat in all its contradictory glory—and to guide us toward a healthier relationship with one of North America’s most wondrous, misunderstood creatures.”—Ben Goldfarb, author of Crossings: How Road Ecology Is Shaping the Future of Our Planet, a New York Times Notable Book of 2023

“Like most of us, I have never seen a cougar in the wild. So however fascinating I find the big cats, before reading Ghostwalker I was a long way from knowing how it feels to be a mountain lion. But with that as her goal, Leslie Patten has written the most fully realized mountain lion book I have ever read. Cutting-edge science and interviews are her bedrock, but first Patten is an observer of the lion world as well as a writer whose prose pulls like a river’s current. Do I know how it feels to be a mountain lion? I’m a lot closer now.”—Dan Flores, author of the New York Times bestseller Coyote America and Wild New World, winner of the 2023 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

“Leslie Patten cares deeply about wild things and wild places. Her extensive field experience tracking wild pumas in remote wild places has resulted in this engaging tour of professional puma research and the colorful biologists and conservation advocates who inhabit that world. Patten has developed a keen eye for the path of wild pumas and those who study them. Ghostwalker is a must-read for all those who cherish these big cats and want to learn more about the complex issues they face in today’s world.”—Jim Williams, certified wildlife biologist and author of Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion

Ghostwalker is a must-read for anyone seriously interested in how habitat loss and landscape fragmentation are impacting the survivability of the mountain lion. This informative book shines a light on the uniqueness of our region’s wild places, earning its place as a finalist in this year’s High Plains Book Awards.”—Billings Gazette

“Mountain lions, also called cougars or pumas, are magnificent beings who are central to the integrity of the ecosystems in which they live. Because they are predators, they are feared and wantonly and brutally killed throughout the landscapes they call home. They surely deserve better—to be treated with respect, dignity, and compassion—and if Ghostwalker doesn’t convince you to appreciate them as the majestic animals who they are, I’m not sure what will. Leslie Patten’s book should go a long way in clearing up misunderstandings about mountain lions. I hope it will enjoy a broad global audience because the disdain and hate with which some people view mountain lions also characterizes the way in which other nonhuman predators are seen, and they all suffer from being violently killed in the name of humans.”—Marc Bekoff, coeditor of Listening to Cougar

Ghostwalker is a rare blend of poetry and scholarly insight, concealed mystery and revelation. This book is a journey through the eyes of a woman who, having never seen a cougar, has actually seen him better than most: with a heart wide open to receive the tales and lessons these cats hold for all creation, especially mankind.”—Cara Blessley Lowe, cofounder of the Cougar Fund

“I learned more about the elusive lion in four hours curled up with this book than in four decades hiking the Greater Yellowstone.  Patten seamlessly knits together personal experiences, scientific research, archaeology, and legend to reveal the very essence of the lion.”—Tom Carter, author Day Hiking Yellowstone

“To know the essence of the lion—that is the quest of Leslie Patten as she tracks and ponders the life of America’s mountain lion—a quest that will leave you yearning for the high country, on the trail of the ghost cat.”—Will Stolzenburg, author of Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat’s Walk across America

Ghostwalker is a fascinating page-turner, sharing stories that lead us through the complicated mix of cougar admirers and the many questions about the survival of these wild cats.”—Lisa Robertson, cofounder of Wyoming Untrapped

Ghostwalker is an enthralling and informative journey into the lives of one of the West’s most enigmatic inhabitants, the cougar. Patten deftly braids legend, biology, and her own experience to guide readers through a stunningly beautiful exploration of these amazing animals, and their myriad meanings to the ecosystems and communities of which they are part.”—Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, Jackson Hole

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword by Harley G. Shaw

1. The Quiet Rapture of Observation
2. Broom Riding and Human Meddling
3. A Language without Tongues
4. The Twenty-Three-Million-Acre Expanse of Wonder
5. Clues from beyond the Visible
6. The Houndsmen
7. The Deadliest Journey
8. The Zen of Mountain Lions
9. Bound in an Urban Forest
10. The Gordian Knot of Bighorns and Mountain Lions
11. Great Things Begin in the Tiny Seed of Small Change

Selected Bibliography

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