Several news reports came out of Wisconsin last week about the presence of a cougar in that state. Unfortunately, this "verified" sighting--only the fourth since the species was extirpated in 1908--came with a slight twist. The cougar in question also reportedly attacked and injured a one-year-old heifer calf. This incident, the first of its kind in Wisconsin in over a hundred years, now raises the question of what to do with the offending animal.
One Wisconsin biologist and lion researcher, who is helping the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources develop a plan for dealing with these magnificent creatures, believes that this particular cougar--if guilty of the crime accused--must be killed. His justifications for this opinion came with the statement that "the most important thing to controlling the [lion] population is keeping the animal afraid of people."
This concept that mountain lions should fear people is nothing new. Mankind, and game agency personnel especially, have been using the "lack of fear" as justification for their actions towards wildlife for millennium. The problem is that, at best, the "fear factor" principle is an arbitrary behavior indicator. At worst, the concept of developing wildlife management plans based on the premise that an entire species should fear and avoid humans is ludicrous, and has no basis in reality.
Granted, individual lions, may--through experience--learn to fear humans, but this is a rare occurrence because most mountain lions who come into contact with humanity are subsequently killed, thus ending the learning experience.
Possibly a better attitude for state game agencies to take toward mountain lions would be to accept the species' proven indifference toward mankind. Despite what alarmists among the trophy-hunting community would have you think, just because an animal is not cowering in fear does not mean it is a threat. Unfortunately that is exactly the yardstick many "public safety" decisions are based upon today.
It is time we discontinued the practice of demanding that all potentially dangerous creatures fear us and realistically acknowledge the threats involved and plan accordingly.