Rugged mountains at sunrise.
 
Opinion
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.

5/10/2010

Choices

Sometimes the choices one makes can have far reaching ramifications. This has never been truer than with what happened a few weeks ago to a young mountain lion mother and her two "teenage" cubs in South Dakota.

Apparently the mother lion and her two cubs denned up for a short time near a typically large-acreage suburban/rural style housing development. This particular spot would have been especially enticing to them because of the abundant food supply--keep in mind teenagers eat a lot! Then while behaving naturally and killing a deer (their natural prey source), an unprotected goat was spotted just on the other side of a backyard fence, and it too was added to the menu. Unfortunately (for the lions) it was easier for them to get over the fence than it was to bring back their dinner. Settling for just the deer, they ate what they needed that day then covered up what remained and saved it for their next meal.

It is at this point in the tragic saga that the choices several people made irrevocably changed the lives of this young family.

The first choice had in fact been made days before when the owner of the goat incorrectly assumed that a backyard fence was adequate protection. Regrettably, this is not the case. Mountain lions can easily leap 15 feet up a tree, or climb over a 12 foot fence. Jumping that particular obstacle was child's play for these powerful creatures. (For more information see Mountain Lion Facts and Protecting Pets & Livestock at the MLF website.)

The second choice was made by the attending SDGF&P biologist, who decided that the family of lions had to die. He justified his decision by stating that any lion which climbed a 7 to 8 foot fence to kill a goat was exhibiting "bold behavior." He also claimed that their returning the next day to eat the cached deer was clear evidence of a "substantial public safety issue." His choice led to the killing of the mother lion and one of the cubs. His choice was the same as that made on almost a daily basis by other game officials throughout the western United States.

The third and final choice was made a few days later after the remaining cub reportedly kept returning to the spot where the mother had cached the family's food. In this case, the cub lucked out because the final choice was made by a Fall River County Conservation Officer who decided to use a non-lethal method (rubber bullets) to encourage the cub to move on and avoid humans in the future. This officer, who should be credited for his actions, used a variation of the "hard release" method used now on several occasions by a few state game agencies.

This has been a story of choices. Choices which might have kept a domestic animal safe and unharmed. Choices which clearly demonstrate the differences in values of two separate wildlife agencies. Choices which in this case changed forever the lives of three lions in South Dakota.