It would be funny if it wasn’t so dangerously stupid. I’m referring to a recent TV newscast from K-2 Television in Billings regarding the fifth mountain lion sighting in the city since mid-July and the third sighting in the vicinity of the Montana State University-Billings campus.
Here’s my bone of contention. The reporter involved and, I believe, the desk anchor for the 5:30 p.m. news both commented to the effect that if you run into a mountain lion roaming Billings, don’t be alarmed. They implied the animals aren’t really dangerous – or words to that effect.
Anyone who thinks a 100-pound mountain lion isn’t dangerous probably thinks our Yellowstone Park bison and grizzly bears are just members of a petting zoo. It’s kind of a Timothy Treadwell sort of mindset only with mountain lions instead of brown bears. Make no mistakes about it, these big cats, can and do kill and eat 600-pound bull elk.
Granted, black bears probably kill and eat more hikers and campers in a year than the big cats do in a decade. Then again there are thousands more black bears and they’re presently enjoying a wider distribution than the scarcer, usually more reclusive felines. Also most black bears become habituated to people very easily, becoming dependent on them for food, via handouts or just trash leavings.
Mountain lions aren’t so trusting and usually try to avoid contact with our species if possible. Unfortunately, younger ones, stupid ones and sick, crippled or just plain hungry cats will often try to put you on the menu. Ever notice how your pet house cat watches you when it’s past time for it’s feeding? Probably your little buddy’s ancient saber-toothed tiger-based DNA just wondering how you would taste if it could get away with the deed. All cats, wild or semi-domesticated, big or small, are natural killers and that’s a biological truth.
Along those lines, in a scientific study published by the prestigious journal, “ Science,” (Sept 19, 2019) the authors studied the populations of 529 species of birds in the continental U.S. and Canada over the last 50 years, concluding that North America has lost over 25 percent of it’s birds just since 1970. According to the report, the North American bird population lost three billion birds in that period.
Michael Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy opined that, in order to fix the problem “Each of us can make a difference with everyday actions that together can save the lives of millions of birds – actions like keeping cats indoors.”
My paraphrasing, but even the experts agree that house cats belong in the house, not free-roaming.
I’ve lost several of the birds that visit our bird feeder this year to a black and orange tabby from the neighborhood. I’ve surprised it in our backyard twice carrying dead birds and apparently, since it glared insolently at me with the dead bird in its mouth before turning and vaulting over top of our 6-foot privacy fence, it’s not afraid of me.
As for what I know about the big cats, as a much younger man I chased behind a pack of squalling hounds as they hot-foooted it after those big cats in the mountains of Montana. Usually the hounds belonged to an older man, Mike, at that time in his seventies, who had been working hounds most of his life. At this time, I was in my late twenties, working as a lineman, in great shape from climbing and working 25-30 foot tall utility poles all day, and I still had trouble keeping up with Mike.
Mike lived on Sourdough Road, just outside Bozeman city limits back then. He had black and tans, plott crosses, walker hounds, blood hound crosses and my favorite, a big red bone hound. I had a large male plott hound. Mike’s kennel usually numbered around 30 or so, depending on whether he was buying, selling, training or just enjoying running them.
We never killed a mountain lion, preferring to tree them and then letting them go until the next time. Bobcats went into Mike’s fur shed though. The big thing here was being able to tap into Mike’s extensive fund of knowledge on all cats, but cougars in particular. Seeing firsthand how capable these felines are of killing virtually any prey animal in the woods gave me a giant respect for their abilities. Understand that they’re the same animal as that renegade house cat in my backyard, only supersized.
Mountain lions aren’t dangerous? Cougars won’t bother you if you leave them alone? Pumas, catamounts and panthers, (all the same name for this universally adaptive carnivore) are afraid of you because you’re a human? Don’t bet your life on it.
If you’re not the big dog in the woods, then to an alpha predator, you’re just meat.