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Recreational Hunting Redux: Cougar Fund Opts For No Killing

Killing cougars doesn't solve the "problems" at hand and should stop right now

Government organizations, hunters, and trappers are notorious for wantonly and inhumanely killing millions of nonhuman animals (animals) in their widely ineffective attempt to manage and control “problem” individuals and groups (for detailed discussions and data see and and). Just today I read that more than 550 wolves have been “taken" by hunters and trappers in the Rockies alone this season.

Cougars, also known as mountain lions and pumas, are magnificent predators who typify wildness and healthy landscapes. They are cherished by people with vast and varying interests, as evidenced in the book Listening to Cougar. Detailed information about America's favorite cat can be found at the websites for The Cougar Fund and The Mountain Lion Foundation and in the books Desert Puma: Evolutionary Ecology And Conservation Of An Enduring CarnivoreSpirit of the Rockies: The Mountain Lions of Jackson Holeand Cougar: Ecology and Conservation.

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Cougars are also vilified because on occasion they attack humans, but these attacks are extremely rare. Nonetheless, cougar-human encounters make for sensational headlines. I've met cougars very up close and personal three times and am still here to write this story. They freely roam around my home that is located within their living room, and I've chosen to coexist with them. I'm the intruder here and there's no reason why they should leave or be removed. 

Cougars in the crosshairs: Killing them does not work

Cougar on the National Elk Refuge, Jackson, Wyoming

Many states still allow the recreational hunting of cougars and other predators and in some dogs can be used to chase cougars for miles until they take cover in a tree only to be shot. When females are killed the collateral damage is notable in that youngsters also die due to a lack of care. It has been estimated that adult females are either pregnant or responsible for the care of youngsters about 75% of the time, so harming or killing a female really means killing her family.

Many people are now saying it's time to stop killing cougars and other predators for fun and in the name of recreation. The Cougar Fund is also supporting these efforts. Trying to compromise with various federal and state organizations about the number, age, and gender of cats who can be killed hasn't worked and neither has killing these and other magnificent predators solved any of the real or purported problems for which they're thought to be responsible. In fact, there is a building body of scientific evidence demonstrating how having cougars prominent upon a landscape actually improves ecological function and health. 

For example, research at the Washington State University Carnivore Conservation Laboratory found that heavy hunting of cougars increases conflicts between humans and cougars, contrary to presumptions of wildlife management programs designed to continually increase kill numbers. And, the results of a detailed study published by the Mountain Lion Foundation in 2006 are very important and showed clearly that:

“Contrary to our assumptions, attacks on humans have not been consistently less frequent in states that allow sport hunting of mountain lions than in California relative to human population size or the extent of mountain lion habitat.

“Additionally, the percentage of livestock reported killed by mountain lions have not been consistently lower in states that allow sport hunting of mountain lions than in California.

“In fact, since the 1971 prohibition on sport hunting, California has had relatively fewer mountain lion attacks on humans per capita and per amount of suitable habitat than a number of states with sport hunting. Moreover, California also reported losing a smaller percentage of domestic sheep than most states with sport hunting of mountain lions. These results do not support the claim that sport hunting reduces the incidence of mountain lion attacks on people or livestock.” 

Similarly, in Australia, killing supposed problem animals does not work.

Recreational hunting is ineffective, inhumane, and immoral: Would you kill your treed cat and her kittens for fun?

Let's remember that cougars are cats and it's fair to ask if you wouldn't kill a domesticated cat or one treed by dogs for fun, and leave her kittens to starve to death, why would you kill a cougar? Surely cougars don't suffer less than a house cat and they have a right to live in peace and safety where they belong.

Recreational hunting, or killing animals for sport, for kicks, or for fun, has all sorts of environmental and ethical problems and there's no reason why it should be sanctioned. Surely there are many better ways to spend time in the outdoors with family and friends. 

The most compassionate and humane and effective ways to deal with cougars and other predators and to foster peaceful coexistence would be to let them be, after all we moved into their homes and redecorated them for our comfort and convenience and not theirs, or to move them to areas where they will no longer be a problem. After all, we're the most invasive of species (or species more appropriately called "out of place species" according to my Australian colleague Dr. Rod Bennison in his discussion of "ecological inclusion") that has wantonly and incessantly wreaked havoc on our one and only precious planet. 

And, even if you don’t buy arguments about compassion, solid science shows that killing these magnificent cats simply does not work. We need to stop ignoring nature and recognize the magnificent and often subtle webs of nature that we should cherish and try as hard as we can to preserve for the animals themselves, the landscapes, and for ourselves and future generations. 

People often tell me they're "mad about wildlife" and I've come to see that this phrase has a double meaning. When people say they're mad about wildlife and love wild animals and then harm them, often causing intense suffering and death, I always say I'm glad they're not mad about me. Our fickleness causes great harm and it's an arrogant and anthropocentric double-cross to choose to move into areas where wild animals are known to live and then compromise their lives. Surely we can do better and it's about time we did so for cougars and other animals. 

Your voice can make a difference

Your voice can make a difference. You can easily contact the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and ask them politely to stop killing these magnificent animals and to use humane and non-lethal biologically sound methods that take into account what we know about these cats for managing them for their and our benefit. We suffer the indignities to which we subject other animals and we need them in our lives as we reconnect with nature and rewild our hearts

The photo of the cougar above and the teaser image were kindly provided by Thomas D. Mangelsen, Images of Nature.

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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