If ever there was a time in American history when we had reason to fear being eaten by bigger animals, it is past. The greatest dangers in our lives these days are self-imposed: fast cars, fast food, pollution…
All the wild carnivores in North America combined do not kill as many people as do domestic dogs. Cars kill thousands of times as many people as do animals. The animal that kills the most people in the US now is deer – our elimination of native predators having allowed prey numbers to soar past natural levels, resulting in countless, sometimes fatal, collisions between cars and wildlife.
Cougar Tracks, But No Cougars
As a wildways scout, I’ve been fortunate to trek thousands of miles in recent years in many of the wildest parts of the East, including Adirondack Wilderness Areas, and in the West, especially in Rocky Mountain National Parks. I’ve seen most of North America’s native carnivores – always in positive, life-affirming experiences; but so far, I’ve seen Cougars only as tracks, scrapes, and carrion. Cougars are so elusive, you can live decades near them and never even glimpse one.
Bobcats, Cougars, and either Red or Gray Wolves or both belong in the Adirondacks and Northern Appalachians, and would be regulating deer herds, if present in ample numbers. The importance of native predators is not just in the deer they actually cull from the herd – usually the weaker ones, whereas human hunters often go against natural selection by targeting the trophy animals – it’s also in how they keep the ungulates wary and moving, preventing over-browsing of wildflowers, white-cedars, and other preferred vegetation.
Return of the Cougar
John Laundre, author of Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest, and other biologists have used the term “ecology of fear” to stress the importance of top predators for behavioral changes. Absent their hunters, grazers and browsers get chubby and complacent as they munch down the forest.
The Cougar Rewilding Foundation and Wildlands Network are among the groups calling for their return. We are fortunate to have in the Adirondacks enough wild country and enough prey (deer especially, but also Beaver, Snowshoe Hare, and other smaller animals) to support Cougar recovery.
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Snowy Owl Sighting (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Tufted Duck at Essex Ferry Dock (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Timber Rattlesnake Safari (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Bald Eagles in Essex (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Feral Pigs in the Adirondacks (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Cougar sighted near Ganatchio Trail? (blogs.windsorstar.com)
- Cougar goes for fast ocean swim off Vancouver Island (timescolonist.com)
- The Maniacal Persecution of Predators (counterpunch.org)
- Gratitude to Beavers (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)