Early yesterday evening, staff at Omaha's Project Harmony, a child protective center, reported finding a mountain lion on the property. For the next half-hour or so the lion didn't move and appeared to be sleeping when Omaha police arrived on scene.
Claiming that the children (who were safely inside the building) were at risk, police officers proceeded to shoot a barrage of bullets and kill the non-aggressive animal.
Before deciding upon taking the lethal action, the Omaha Police Department claimed to have consulted with several agencies including the Nebraska Humane Society, Nebraska Game and Parks and the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.
It's not known which, if any, of these entities opted for a lethal solution, but when asked afterwards as to why lethal action was necessary, it appears as if everyone was trying to justify the killing as necessary to protect the citizens of Omaha and the residents of Project Harmony in particular.
Craig Stover, Law Enforcement Administrator for Nebraska Game and Parks, stated that "Our mountain lion response plan calls for cougars in town to be euthanized if it can safely be done, out of safety considerations for the people in the city." According to him attempts at tranquilization and relocation are dangerous because lions can become unpredictable once darted.
The Omaha Police Department released the following statement: "Officers placed themselves between the mountain lion and the public then attempted to humanely euthanize the mountain lion. After the first shots were fired, the mountain lion rose up and officers fired until they were certain the animal posed no further threat to public safety and to end its suffering."
Mark Langan, Vice President of Field Operations for the Nebraska Humane Society justified the lethal police action this way. "Sadly because of all the people in this area, kids inside the building, the decision was made to shoot the mountain lion. It was such a huge public safety factor. [It] could have taken off running across the parking lot or something."
To a gullible, trusting public it sounds as if a valiant knight, in the form of the Omaha Police Department, rode up on their white charger and rescued a crowd of children from the clutches of certain death. Too bad that scenario does not take into account any of the facts.
First, the mountain lion, despite lounging next to a building full of children, showed no sign of aggression. In fact it appeared to witnesses to be sleeping when the police showed up.
Second, investigation of the carcass revealed that the lion had a broken leg and was immobile.
Third, several western states, California, Colorado and Washington in particular - all of whom have a large mountain lion populations - have been successfully tranquilizing and relocating mountain lions for years. California alone has relocated almost a dozen lions from urban settings for the past year and a half without any question of putting the local citizenry at risk. Somehow this fact has escaped the notice of, or is being purposely ignored, by Nebraska's decision makers.
Dr. Laundre, a well know mountain lion researcher made the following statement.
"To my knowledge, there has yet to be a mountain lion researcher attacked or injured by a mountain lion and we put ourselves in more 'dangerous' situations than an injured or treed, or cornered cat in an urban setting.
I have walked in, alone, on females with kittens, chased animals off kills, climbed trees after tranquilized but still awake animals and never once did they show any aggression toward me. For anyone to think that that cat or any cat caught in this type of setting traveled hundreds of miles just to attack them, they are crazy.
A cornered mountain lion is probably the safest situation (for humans) to be in. They just will not attack! And they haven't!
Can anyone name one incident out of the hundreds that have occurred where the lion even showed any aggression, let alone attacked someone? If these people could get that through their heads, we would begin to see them handle these situations better."
The bottom line is that some Nebraskan decision makers have let unrealistic fear guide their policies decisions. By hiding behind the excuse of public safety they can act as if they did something noble, and do not have to admit that they might be wrong.
It's time to pull the blind from the eyes of the public and for them to demand accountability - not excuses - for these so-called acts of public safety from those in authority.
* CORRECTION - In the original story we mistakenly reported that Mark Langan worked for Project Harmony.