A Glamorous Killer Returns. Excerpt:
Happy Hump Day!
But today Puma concolor is back on the prowl. That is one of the great success stories in wildlife conservation, but also a source of concern among biologists and other advocates, for their increasing numbers make them harder to manage — and harder for people to tolerate. No reliable estimate exists for the cougar population at its lowest point, before the 1970s, but there are now believed to be more than 30,000 in North America. They have recolonized the Black Hills of South Dakota, the North Dakota Badlands and the Pine Ridge country of northwestern Nebraska.
There are increasing reports of sightings in 11 Midwestern states, as well as in Arkansas and Louisiana. A young male tripped a trail camera in the Missouri Ozarks on Feb. 2, and dogs treed one in Minnesota in March.
“Every year we see more of them,” said Mark Dowling, a founder of the Cougar Network, a nonprofit research group and a leading source of online information about cougars. “It used to be a rarity when a mountain lion showed up in Missouri. It’s almost routine now.”
In many years of prowling the outdoors, including the last 23 in Colorado and Wyoming, I’ve seen two mountain lions. Both cats were big toms, both seen from a considerable distance, one well over a mile, the other probably half a mile. Like most apex predators, the big cats are thin on the ground, even in environments with plenty of game.
Mountain lions can be dangerous. An apex predator is pretty much programmed to view other large animals in one of two ways: A threat, or prey. Mountain lions aren’t hunted any more in big parts of their range – California, for example – because well-meaning but ill-informed ballot initiatives have taken wildlife management out of the hands of wildlife biologists.
The big cats do attack people with predatory intent. It’s rare but it happens, and they tend to target children.
It’s not a big threat. Death rates by exposure and lightning strike still outweigh cougar attacks as a source of outdoor mortality. A managed hunting season, though, may do well to make the big cats more wary of humans, and less likely to view them as a potential food source.
On balance, it’s a good thing that the big cats are rebounding. They are an original and irreplaceable part of the American landscape, a uniquely New World animal. If there is the small chance of an unfriendly encounter, it can be prevented in almost every case by the simple expedient of a pistol shot into the ground, and as all True Believers know, yr. obdt. never goes abroad in the mountains without a sidearm. Not for fear of wildlife, mind you, but just on general principles.