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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012 in Society | 2 comments

Coexisting with Predators is Neither Impossible Nor Rocket Science (Guest Voice)

Coexisting with Predators is Neither Impossible Nor Rocket Science
By: Dr. Ronald Hinde

Apparently cougars (also known as mountain lions and pumas) are making a comeback. While the conservationist in me sees this as absolutely wonderful news, the realist in me is worried.

Generally, the American cougar—the cat’s habitat includes various portions of North and South America—resides in the western portion of the country, having been driven out of anywhere else. It’s been this way for the last 100 years, but evidence published in The Journal of Wildlife Management shows that “the western population has spread, with cougar populations re-establishing across the Midwest.”

Way to go cougars! Considering you’ve been labeled as a pest animal (only in Texas . . .) and suffered environmental degradation, habitat fragmentation, and a depletion of your prey base, you’re doing pretty well. Your new neighbors, i.e. other humans, will not be as pleased by your progress as I am (regardless of how the article claims that “the question now is how the public will respond . . .” Is there really any question as to how the public will respond to an apex predator moving into the neighborhood?). And you know what? That’s really uncalled for.

Species can effectively cohabitate (and have for centuries), but humanity’s stubborn refusal to attempt compromise makes it a miracle that ANY predator’s numbers can stay constant, let alone increase. People shoot at wolves from helicopters and hunt bears in their own forests, and then complain about overpopulated deer causing car wrecks. Our lack of acknowledgment and respect for the natural order of things is hinders us from reaping the benefits.

I fear these cougars will experience the reaction that coyotes get around here (California), if not worse. A coyote is close enough to a dog to worry people but not really scare them. Something with “lion” in one of its common names is out of luck. Still, people do hate coyotes. They call them vermin for going through their garbage and murderers for stealing their pets. They’re seen as problems instead of animals just trying to survive.

I’m not saying we should just ignore the fact that we live alongside predators. I have several pets myself that I would be heartbroken to lose. (Though honestly, I’d rather lose one of my dogs to Mother Nature than a hit-and-run or him choking on a toy. At least his death wouldn’t be pointless, still sad, but not pointless.) It’s better to acknowledge the potentially “dangerous” creatures we share our particular neighborhoods with and act accordingly. You can’t rely on a cougar to know the difference between a feral cat and someone’s pet cat, but humans are smart enough to take certain precautions.

First, it’s up to you to know what wildlife is common to your area. I know that coyotes are very populous where I am. My sister, however, has in influx of “bunnies” in her suburban neighborhood in Texas. She only worries about the safety of her garden.

Second, LEARN about the wildlife common to your area. This is the age of the internet, of Google, of Wikipedia. If you look up coyotes, you’ll see that on RARE occasions, there have been incidents in which coyotes have gone after small children. If you look up cougars, you’ll see that they really don’t consider people prey. Cougars have this thing called “prey recognition” that they learn from their mothers. If mom doesn’t show baby that humans are food, when baby grows up, he or she generally isn’t going to try to take down a person—small or otherwise. Your little fluffy dog however . . . .

Third, pay attention to what you have learned and act appropriately. If your pet resembles a tasty snack, do not leave it outside unattended. If that’s too much work for you, either move, tell fluffy nature is cruel but maybe the gods will smile on him, or teach the animal how to use a litter box/piddle pads and keep him inside. “Outdoor” cats do not survive long in predator territory. Since many predators are nocturnal, it’s best to take walks before dark (though if you’ve got crepuscular predators, like cougars, it’s best to walk before dusk). Do not EVER approach, feed, corner, or attempt to catch a wild animal, especially a predator.

I could tell you more dos and don’ts—even animal specific—but you’ll remember it better if you hunt the information down yourself.
Remember, if we take the initiative and follow the rules, we can all coexist. And we ALL deserve to exist.

Ronald Hinde lives in California with his many pets. When he’s not out in nature, reading and writing about animals, his nose is buried in an environmentalism novel. He has a store, PetsLess, which features a wide selection of dog pens and other dog & cat products.