Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cougars with ample prey leave humans alone


Earlier this week a cougar, or mountain lion, bit a woman trying to break up a fight between the cat and her dog. The bites weren’t serious, and it appears the dog will be okay too. It could have been much worse.

Despite the facts of the incident, the glaring headlines reported the woman had been attacked by the cougar. Unfortunately, this is how incidents like this get out of hand. Now before you start thinking I’m an animal lover out to save the poor ol’ mountain lion, hear me out first. In all my years on open range as a cowboy and range management officer with Storey County, I have only seen one mountain lion in the wild. And it jumped out in front of me on a road behind Virginia City one hot afternoon many years ago. I was horse back at the time, and was glad my horse wasn’t paying attention or it could have been a rough ride while it lasted. The point is, it is a rare thing to see one, let alone be attacked by one.

Now I’ve heard stories around the camp fire about lions that will stalk a cowboy just waiting for the opportunity to jump him. And I can certainly attest to the fact that I lost a calf at the ranch to a lion one winter, and we had a report once of a lion chasing a car one day on the Geiger Grade. (Don’t ask. I have no idea..) But there has only been one documented case of a lion deliberately attacking a man in Nevada. And that was down on the Nevada test site in 1991. The man wasn’t seriously injured.

But movies and tall tales have given the lion a bad rap. And the recent headlines haven’t helped the situation either.

Don’t misunderstand me. If I was outside and a lion attacked one of my dogs, I’d be in a panic. And I’d probably jump in the fray and end up getting bit just like the lady in the Highlands did. But it’s important to remember that the cat wasn’t lying in wait to attack the woman. He or she was after the dog, which under the circumstances was nothing more than prey.

Understanding animal behavior is the key to understanding that incidents like this do happen. If a lion or bear or any other predator has enough of its natural prey to hunt, it leave other critters alone.

Unfortunately though, when there is not enough for a lion to eat, it will certainly look for prey of opportunity, just like a coyote will. (Coyotes will eat just about anything.) So don’t blame the lion for doing what he has to do to stay alive. Keep a close eye on your pets especially during these lean times of winter. Be alert at night if you have to take your pet outside.

The best protection is to deny a lion an opportunity for an easy meal. And that is your responsibility.

By the way, if you ever hear a sound like a baby crying somewhere in the wild? It’s probably a lion.

Be seein’ you.


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