Animal Emotions

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Cougar, Cubs Killed in S. Dakota: Let's Make Violence Costly

Mother and cubs killed although they harmed no one as if they were trash animals

The cubs had to be killed because without their mother they would have starved

Our relationships with other animals pull us all over the place. We love some and hate others. Many of the animals who find themselves on people's "hit list" are predators who kill other animals for meals (as we also choose to do) or they are targeted because they pose some danger to us. They're labeled "problem animals", "pests", or "trash" because we simply think they're worthless beings and they're relentlessly killed in the most heinous ways. 

I just read about a sickening event that recently took place in South Dakota that raises all sorts of questions about how we choose to interact with other animals. In an essay titled "South Dakota Authorities Kill Four Mountain Lions in Two Days. Is There a Better Solution?" written by Sarah Fuss, we learn that shooters from South Dakota Game Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) killed a mother mountain lion and her two cubs who had merely been observed eating deer in Keystone, South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore. According to John Kanta, Regional Wildlife Manager at SDGF&P, "That's bold behavior." He calls the killings "unfortunate" and "believes the cubs had to be killed, because without a guiding adult lion, they would have continued to prowl through town and eventually would have starved." A male lion was killed in a separate incidence for "allegedly watching walkers and bicyclists along a park trail in the Angostura State Recreation Area, just south of the Black Hills." (Note: Mountain lions and cougars are the same animals.)

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So, the cubs were killed because they would have starved without their mother. What misdirected compassion, from someone who works for an organization that clearly is in the business of killing mountain lions and other numerous animals. And, indeed, Mr. Kanta doesn't believe that the lions were targeting people and in South Dakota, there is only one "'probable unverified' account" of a lion attacking a human. Those are pretty low odds of getting attacked and you can be sure there have been plenty of opportunities in the past for a mountain lion(s) to attack a human(s). Lions really choose not to do so in South Dakota and in many other locations in their home range. They'd just as well avoid us. Having had three very close encounters with mountain lions and having talked with many others who have been in similar situations, I can personally attest to their proclivity for making choices not to harm us in most, perhaps in the vast majority of the situations, when they could easily do so (please see "Close Encounters Of A Lion Kind: Meeting Cougars, Foxes, Bears ... and Bear Poop" and). 

Many people want to know, why not tranquilize and move the lion clan as was recently done in California. In Ms. Fuss's essay Timothy Dunbar, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF), tells of human-mountain lion incidents in Glendale and Santa Barbara "where they contained the situation, tranquilized the animal, and moved it out of the area a short distance.” Hazing is also involved. Dunbar tells what's happening in Washington State. “They’re driving them [mountain lions] out of town and then what they’re doing is banging on the cage, yelling at it, scaring it, then they open up the cage, and as the lion jumps out, they shoot it in the butt with rubber bullets and have it chased into the hills by Karelian bear dogs.”

Instead of killing the mother and her cubs or the male they should have been moved from where they were seen and placed in an area far from people and harassed along the way. That would be the compassionate thing to do and favored by those in the growing international movement called compassionate conservation (see also and). Safety tips should also be spread widely (and repeated as necessary), as was done after a recent human-mountain lion encounter in Ontario, Canada

Animals are not trash: Let's make compassion for other animals profitable and violence unprofitable

There are many different things you can do to make your opinion about these unnecessary killings be heard. You can contact the Wildlife Division of South Dakota Game Fish & Parks by email: Wildinfo@state.sd.us or call them at 605.773.3387.

You can also choose to visit or vacation in places where there isn't such egregious animal abuse and make compassion for other animals profitable and violence unprofitable. We all make these sorts of choices. We need to change our behavior to accommodate mountain lions and other animals in areas in which we choose to live. We have a choice, they don't. Indeed, in a lengthy study of urban foxes in the UK, killing them hasn't worked. However, changing human behavior did work. We must always keep in mind that mountain lions, bears, coyotes, foxes, and other animals are the messengers who remind us how lucky we are to live where we do and to cherish our magnificent planet. 

Mountain lions and other animals are not trash animals (please see "Stray Animals and Trash Animals: Don't Kill the Messengers"). We shouldn't be killing them because they're trying to live in areas where they wind up because of our selfish ways. Let's not kill the messengers because of our lack of desire and our choice not to adapt to their presence. Peaceful coexistence is easy to attain and should direct our interactions with other animals who are trying hard to adapt to our incredibly selfish invasive and destructive ways. 

The teaser image is provided courtesy of The Cougar Fund, an organization that has adopted a no-kill policy

Note: There are other reasons not to kill cougars. For example, it is known that cougars in the Northern Front Range of Colorado selectively prey on deer infected with chronic wasting disease

 

 

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

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