Let’s start with a question for you:What do you know about Cougars?
Actually, even scientists have known little about cougars until very recently. Once the most widespread large carnivore of North and South America, it was driven from its homelands in the eastern United States by the Europeans who settled there. If a cougar was spotted, it was shot. And their major prey, the deer were almost systematically eliminated as well. That was the past.
The Cougars are attempting to return to their homeland in the East. Any number of young males, often only a year or two old, and leaving their mother for the first time, are attempting to head east out of the Black Hills in South Dakota.
The Black Hills was one of the first places the cougars found refuge as they traveled out from their remote retreats in the Rockies. But as they take their precarious journey to the unknown, all of them have been killed by our species — a repeat of the past. These are all young males seeking a female, but will never find her.
Why? Female cougars tend to stay close to home, near the territory of their mother.
There was one male that somehow against all odds made it all the way from the Black Hills of South Dakota, to Connecticut only to be killed by a speeding automobile. He it is that let us know that they can do it! You can read his story in this marvelous book, Heart of a Lion by the outstanding author William Stolzenburg. What is excellent in this book though is the author’s detailed history of what happened to cougars when the Europeans arrived.
It is so important to have this wider perspective if we are going to hand down to our children a far more respectful relationship with this important carnivore.
The cougars will return, and we have to educate ourselves in how to live and farm with them. Fear and ignorance drove the behavior of those who came before us. Respect and understanding must drive our behavior, for our children are watching us.
A fellow biologist recently remarked concerning the return of the Cougar: “We as scientists must prepare our people better for the cougar, than we did for the Coyote.” Fear and ignorance are very powerful, and in our society today we have the even greater capacity to respond to that fear in a negative manner.
So I encourage you to educate yourself about cougars. Here is a valuable book that I recommend: Cougar Ecology and Conservation edited by Maurice Hornocker and Sharon Negri, and an excellent film showing the Secret Life of the Cougar.
One thing that stands out in all the research is the cougar doesn’t want you to see them, and they don’t want to see you. The rapacious killer of children and pets is again that story told in our imagination. Their major prey is deer. That is who they prefer to seek out. So the cougar is badly needed in the East.
How many of you farmers spend thousands of dollars protecting your livelihoods from the deer’s appetite? And how many of you are experiencing deer spreading their brain worm to your hoofed farm animals? Again, I encourage you to visit our new educational website. Seek to have your animal husbandry practices be proactive not reactive.
In closing, Coyote has led the way back for our carnivores who will be returning. Begin to practice with Coyote sustainable animal husbandry practices, but also seek to find a place in your heart where there is room for all life, not just our own.
Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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