Why does The Cougar Fund invest so much time and energy in education? We really have to look no further than a quick overview of what people already think they know about mountain lions and the impact lions have on various aspects of human lives and interests.
Let’s start with the name, or to be more specific, the names.
Mountain lions, cougars, puma, catamount, painter, ghost cat, panther, klandaghi, these are just a few of the most common nouns for the large wild cat, technically, the puma concolor, or cat of one color. It is thought that many names came into existence because lions were so widespread and community interaction, especially in indigenous times, was limited, therefore, each tribe or settlement used their own term to describe a lion. However the descriptives came about, we do know that ancient members of the wild cat family, or felidae, existed with early man on the african continent, which we now understand to be the seat of humanity, so our history sharing the landscape with this magnificent and mysterious felid is a long one.
It is interesting that how we ‘feel’ about an animal’s name and presence often drives our attitude towards it and how we anticipate the behavior, even the ‘motives’ of that animal.
Fear and public safety
In the previous paragraph describing our co-evolution with big cats, the presence of primal fear in the human animal, with its inherent lack of strength, speed, big teeth, and long strong claws, is quite understandable. Fast forward to the cognitive revolution and our ever developing ability to enhance the creative ways we can not only protect ourselves, but also destroy threats against us. We can use our powers of deductive reasoning to adapt to our environment in ways that will reduce the risks of harm coming to us, and allow us move about in places where wildlife is trying to eke out an existence in habitat that is being carved away. You will find specific details of how to live and recreate in cougar country here. Understanding the natural history and behavior of the mountain lion through education can be empowering, and can replace paralysing fear with respect.
Situational awareness, and the ability to stay calm, focused and know what to do in the event you find yourself, however unlikely, in a conflict situation, function like a seatbelt in a vehicle. It is not a 100% guarantee, but statistics show that such tools are your best protection. That, in addition to the cold hard fact that fatal attacks by mountain lions on the entire North American continent have numbered less than 30 in over 125 YEARS. We can put that in perspective if we understand that dogs kill, on average, about 30 people a year, the most vulnerable being young children, and cows, kill 20 people per year. More information that gives context to the risks of a wild animal attack can be found in this short video
You can now see, from what we have discussed, that the actual threat presented by living and recreating in mountain lion country is actually very small. The elusive and avoidant nature of mountain lions together with the statistical evidence that attacks are indeed, exceedingly rare, shows us that the public attitude may be based on a belief system about mountain lions that is based largely on incomplete information. That is why education is a huge priority for The Cougar Fund.
In our next blog we will continue to examine how attitudes shape responses to cougars when we look at hunters, hobby ranchers, and other livestock producers.