By Sharon St Joan
To read part one first, click here.
A fallacy – that killing cougars protects calves
Concerning the mortality of young calves, only 1 to 2 percent of these deaths are caused by predation — from all predators, including dogs. All the other calf deaths are caused either by illness or are weather-related. Ranchers are compensated for the loss of their livestock, and non-lethal forms of predator control have been shown to be the most effective response. So there is no reason to kill cougars to protect calves.
Just the opposite is true. It has been shown that increased hunting causes more, not fewer, calf deaths.
It is, in fact, a grave mistake to increase cougar hunting quotas in the hope of lessening livestock predation. Hunting cougars (and other predators) disrupts their social order. This means that young cougars are separated from their mothers while they are still learning to hunt their natural prey. With fewer adults in the population, hungry adolescent cougars are far more likely to engage in erratic behavior – to attack livestock or to roam near agricultural fields and structures, potentially leading to more human/wildlife conflicts.
The higher incidence of livestock deaths noted in certain areas in Utah was most likely directly caused by the increased hunting of predators in recent years. If the hunting quotas are increased again, as is planned, then the greater numbers of cougars hunted will almost certainly lead to even higher livestock deaths in these areas next year and the year after. Like pouring gasoline on a fire – killing more cougars will not work and will only make things worse.
Cougar mothers ought not to be killed
When their social order and their habitat are left undisturbed, cougars do not seek out or attack human beings or livestock, and they do not hang around human structures. They prefer living deep in the wilderness, and maintaining wilderness for them to live in is the best way to help both wild lands and ourselves.
The lives of individual cougars and their offspring have a value conferred on them by nature. When they are chased with packs of dogs, treed, and then shot, this is inhumane and is not ethical hunting.
Both female and male cougars are hunted. From a distance the hunter cannot with any certainty tell male from female. At any time of year, kittens may still be with their mother because they stay with her, learning survival skills, for up to two years.
Although, according to Department of Wildlife Resources regulations, killing a mother accompanied by kittens is prohibited, as is killing any adult accompanied by a young cougar, this does nothing to protect very small kittens left in their den, or left to play while their mother goes off to hunt, or kittens which are separated from their mother (and therefore are out of sight) when their mother is fleeing a pack of dogs. About one third of all cougars killed are females, and clearly a great many kittens die as a result.
It is a universally accepted norm that female animals with offspring should not be hunted – though, sadly, this basic humane principle is often disregarded. In the case of cougars, wherever any cougar hunting at all is allowed, whatever the season, females as well as males will be killed, and kittens and youngsters not old enough to fend for themselves will inevitably die.
Since cougars are not hunted for food, increasing the numbers hunted is for no good reason. Fewer cougars should be hunted, not more.
No taking into account future threats
Without a scientific estimate of the numbers of cougars in Utah, there is no basis for increasing the hunt quotas.
The increase is arbitrary, and may be critically harmful to sustaining the cougar population. This is true especially since there has been no taking into account of clear, predictable threats to wild lands, such as the shrinking and chopping up of wild lands and wilderness corridors. Further loss of habitat is likely in the wake of more intense wildfires, possible droughts, more people moving into Utah, and government policies that promote extractive fossil fuel activity, along with the accompanying pollution and habitat deterioration that oil wells, coal, and fracking bring.
Not planning for future conditions that are scientifically and statistically probable leaves wildlife populations at risk. Not only will they have to deal with overhunting, but they will have to do this while being exposed to all the other growing threats to wild lands and ecosystems – the harm we as human beings are causing to the earth.
Just as we normally plan for any disasters likely to strike, future threats to wildlife should also be taken into account when setting hunting quotas – because they are a foreseeable part of our future.
Nature must be left in peace
We need to take a new look at wildlife, cougars included, to see them once again as our valued and beautiful fellow beings on this planet, whose presence is a gift, enriching the natural world and our own lives. Let’s let them live in peace.
How you can help
Please send an email to help cougars.
You may choose one or two of these points below and use your own words. Ask that cougar hunting be reduced, not increased. Please indicate the state and/or country where you live. See the link at the end for the email address.
One: Cougars’ lives have an intrinsic value. They are not hunted for food, and hunting them does not provide humans with anything that is actually needed.
Two: Overhunting harms the balance of nature.
Three: Cougars are beneficial to the ecosystem. A scientific study in Zion National Park demonstrated that where there are cougars, there are abundant deer herds, healthy streams, and a far greater abundance of life forms: three times as many fish, and more saplings, birds, butterflies, frogs, and small mammals.
Four: Cougar hunting leads to more deaths of ranchers’ calves. Cougars self-regulate their populations according to availability of food and habitat considerations. Only one to two percent of calf predation can be attributed to predators. Hunting disturbs the cougars’ social order, leading to erratic behavior by young cougars who are then more likely to kill calves.
Five: Hunting cougars is inhumane. Chasing cougars with dog packs up a tree and then shooting them is inhumane. Killing females with kittens who will then be left to starve is also inhumane. Because there is no certain way to hunt cougars without killing females that have dependent kittens, hunting cougars is not ethical hunting, and they should not be hunted.
Six: Predictable future threats to our wild lands ought to be taken into account when determining cougar hunting quotas.
Please send an email expressing your views to Dave Black, Chair of the southern Utah RAC region. firstname.lastname@example.org
Or better yet, attend the RAC meeting on August 1, 2017, at 7 pm in Beaver, Utah, at the Beaver High School and speak up for cougars!
Information for this was drawn from the HSUS cougar report – State of the Mountain Lion: A Call to End Trophy Hunting of America’s Lion
from communications with Kirk Robinson, Executive Director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, and from other sources. Any inaccuracies are mine alone. – Sharon St Joan
To read the article in BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION 133 (2006) 397–408
Linking a cougar decline trophic cascade, and catastrophic regime shift in Zion National Park by William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta, who conducted the cougar study:
To read an article about the Zion cougar study published in Park Science, 4 September, 2015, Impact of a cougar decline on Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, By Betsie Blumberg:
Top photo: © Dan Stroik Dreamstime
Second photo: © Lynn Bystrom | Dreamstime
Third photo: © Lukas Blazek | Dreamstime
Fourth photo: © Maik Brand | Dreamstime
Fifth photo:© Mazikab | Dreamstime
Sixth photo: © Belizar | Dreamstime
© text, parts one and two, Sharon St Joan, 2017