Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Vancouver Cougars

This is sort of a continuation of the clearcut logging issue, only focusing on one of the animals affected by said issue. Mountain Lions (Cougars or Pumas, if you prefer) living on Vancouver Island.

Flipping channels the other day I ran across a special on the National Geographic channel I believe it was, called "Hunter/Hunted" about the rising number of cougar attacks on humans and domestic pets in that area. Now I didn't catch the entire show, so I'm not sure what the exact statistics are, but basically there have been more attacks in the past 5-10 years than there were previously, despite the fact that the cougar population on the island is half of what it was 10 years ago. Now, you can say simple habitat encroachment by humans and their pets is to blame, and that would probably be partly true, but that's not the whole reason. The root of the problem? Clearcut logging.
In past years vast swaths of the island's forest had been denuded, and the resulting change in habitat had changed the balance of animal life in the forests. More open areas meant more inviting places for deer and larger prey animals to roam and graze. Higher numbers of prey animals naturally meant higher numbers of predators, which is why the cougar population estimate for that era was somewhere around 800. But then the forest started to close in on those cleared areas, prey species lost their habitat, starved, or moved to another area, and cougars started getting hungry. With the decrease in prey came a decrease in predators, but there were still too many to feed and the new forest with its scanty undergrowth didn't even seem inviting to the smaller prey animals. Cougars had to find something to eat, or die, and cougars don't give up their lives or their habitat easily. I imagine if I was a cougar I'd think a Pomeranian looked like a right nice little snack, too.
Featured on the show were three cats with different bad habits, one starving yearling who resorted to eating neighborhood kitty cats to survive and had a den far too close for comfort to human habitats; that cat was tracked down and shot. As far as I can recall the other two had gotten away, one attacking and biting a little girl, though even the family admits that the cat was most likely after the puppy, and another who mauled a mountain biker who was out after dark.
Mind you I certainly don't condone such behaviour, and any animal caught attacking humans or domestic animals certainly needs to be dealt with. But how can you blame a wild animal for simply being wild? I was heartened to learn that neither of the human victims featured in the special held a grudge against their attacker. They understood that they were in the cougar's domain, and the cougar was just doing what cougars do. As the special said, WE are the ones who have to be carefully not to come between "The hunter and the hunted." <-P.S. I know this Puma!

Creatures Great and Small has a great variety of merchandise featuring wild and domestic animals, including this absolutely gorgeous journal featuring our crittur of the moment, 'Felis Concolor' AKA Mr. Mountain Lion. Or is it a Miss? Inkebana uses the art of ink blots to create this magnificent puma design!

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