Friday, January 30, 2004

We have trained mountain lions to eat people

Or so says David Baron. We must train them to fear us again, for their good and ours:

Near where the mountain lion would later eat the jogging teenager, the fleece and Teva-wearing residents of Boulder, Colo., reveled in living in a city surrounded by acres of open space. They were delighted to find so many Bambis munching on their front lawns, not realizing that as this prey species grew bolder around humans -- feeding all day long, rather than just at dawn and dusk, mountain lions would be drawn in after them. (Boulder was so fond of its deer that when wildlife biologists tried to conduct a study on them, activists staged nocturnal raids to liberate the animals from traps.)


In trying to "re-create a mythic past -- a time when man and beast lived in harmony," Baron writes, the residents of Boulder had removed the negative reinforcement that had made generations of mountain lions fear humans. A unilateral cease-fire in the war with mountain lions succeeded only in casting humans as the cats' new prey.

Not that Baron is advocating picking up a shotgun and shooting every animal with a demonstrated taste for human flesh. But as he tells the story of the frustrated wildlife biologists who tried to sound the alarm as the lions around Boulder grew bolder, in the period before the jogger's death, he suggests that some more humane aversion-training may be in order.

Call it modern-day predator control. Tagging or radio-collaring mountain lions that are seen by people would help biologists understand which individual cats have learned not to fear humans, and should be re-educated or shipped to a remoter locale. Montana officials, for instance, have had success using packs of trained dogs and beanbag-loaded guns to school grizzlies that spend too much time around humans.

Frankly I think more of America could use a big deer-eating predator species. On the East Coast, where there no natural predators left, deer are major pests. If we could only ship some of the good, human-fearing cougars to Jersey.

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