Many local residents insist the “big cats” – Cougars, Pumas, Panthers, Mountain Lions (multiple names for the same animal) – are already here, or were never fully eradicated.
From my readings and observations, it seems the many reported sightings of Cougars usually fall into several confusing categories:
- people excitedly thinking they’re seeing Cougars when actually they are seeing the great cat’s smaller cousin, the Bobcat, or even a golden retriever or deer or another big tawny mammal;
- released or escaped pet Cougars, for some people don’t care what the laws say about holding wild animals captive;
- widely dispersing Cougars, usually young males, leaving areas westward where they are being shot and trapped and following forested connections eastward, but not finding mates, and eventually being shot or hit by cars in their search for new territories.
The Cougar Rewilding Foundation has concluded that we do not now have, but would greatly benefit from, a functioning population of Cougars in our forests.
Resident Cougars Absent But Welcome
Our woods and our lives will be safer if we allow Cougars and other missing predators to return. While the likelihood of being eaten by a big wild toothy animal is vanishingly remote (vending machines and rotten fruit, for a couple more examples, kill more people than do native carnivores), the likelihood of being sickened by Lyme disease or another emerging public health threat associated with fragmented ecosystems is significant. Cougars and other predators hold in check numbers of the smaller animals that carry such pathogens as the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Intact, connected forests, extensive enough to house full suites of native predators, are healthier not just for wildlife but also for people in nearby towns. For evidence, take a long walk in the woods, starting in a badly logged woodlot then making your way to a big piece of Forest Preserve, resting occasionally along the way to read from Richard Ostfelt’s book Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System or Cristina Eisenberg’s The Wolf’s Tooth: Keystone Predators, Trophic Cascades, and Biodiversity or Jim Estes and John Terborgh’s Trophic Cascades: Predators, Prey, and the Changing Dynamics of Nature. Or follow Keeping Track founder Sue Morse on the paths of our area’s four-legged wanderers.
From my ramblings and readings, then, I fear we do not now have breeding populations of Cougars in the East north of the remnant population in South Florida. We have many reasons to help them return home safely. Not least of these is the sheer thrill of glimpsing a big wild cat disappearing into a big wild forest.
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.
- Catfight: How mountain lions are struggling to survive (salon.com)
- Cougar Predation Key To Ecosystem Health (4thenaturesake.wordpress.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Apex Predators: ‘mother natures antibody cures biodiversity, and health’ (b3hollan.wordpress.com)