Earlier this month, a young female mountain lion made front page news. She had dispersed from British Columbia, Canada all the way into Montana's Helena Valley.
The 450 mile trek is extremely rare for a female lion. While males frequently travel great distances from where they were born, females tend to establish territories bordering those of their mother.
Back in March, the 90 pound female lion was captured by researchers close to Sand Creek. She was given the nickname "Sandy" and fitted with a tracking collar before being released.
Biologists in both Canada and Montana had access to her GPS data, which sent an update on her location once per day. By mid June, Sandy had crossed the border into the U.S.
By the end of July she had made it across the Rocky Mountains and was headed towards the plains.
Staying in forested greenbelts near housing tracts for cover, researchers began to worry she might get into trouble for preying on pets or livestock.
Sandy managed to stay out of sight and out of trouble. Not finding good lion habitat on the plains, she turned back until reaching the foothills again.
From there, the determined lion continued southeast into Helena Valley, nearly to Bozeman, and well on her way to Yellowstone for the new year.
Unfortunately, Sandy's life was cut short.
Montana's mountain lion recreational hunting season runs from September to April. During this time, 683 lions can be killed for sport. This past week, Sandy became one of the nearly 200 mountain lions to have been shot by hunters so far this season in Montana.
The hunter likely didn't know the incredible distance Sandy had traveled. Nor did he know researchers and the public were excitedly tracking her journey. Nor did he realize the valuable genes she was carrying that could have strengthened the local lion population had she lived long enough to breed.
At 90 pounds, Sandy's carcass wouldn't even be large enough for any ego-driven sport hunter to have a taxidermist mount. The hunter simply saw a warm blooded target and decided to pull the trigger.
In the western United States 3,000 mountain lions are shot by sport hunters every year. Each cat has a story, a genetic bloodline, and a critical role in ensuring the species' long term survival.
And each time we kill a lion, we lose a little bit of what distinguishes us as humans: our capacity for compassion, for making rational decisions that benefit the common good, for overcoming the urge to demonstrate power and dominance at the expense of our neighbors and our environment.
If we lose our big cats, we will mourn a species that we barely understood. Only a few of us will have encountered an individual wild lion.
And this will be the greatest loss: That we knew just enough to save them, enough to change our behavior, enough to make a difference, and that we chose not to act.