A friend of mine asked me a particularly interesting question towards the end of last spring semester.
She told me that a mountain lion had been responsible for taking a baby directly from a backyard in California. This mountain lion (or puma or cougar) then dragged the baby off in what was to become a fatal attack.
Now the question she asked me was, how do you approach this event and what solution, if any, would you intend to carry out?
I was given three options: hunt or trap and then kill the lion, capture the lion and transport it away, or leave the lion alone.
I know that for many people, there isn’t even a real question present. Few would consider the alternatives to pursuing and killing the animal that was responsible for the death of a human. And even though the question posed to me was most likely a theoretical one, I think there is some sense in keeping these sorts of questions afloat.
There is a reason I’m bringing up this question four months after it was posed to me. As it turns out, the same question could be, and should have been presented here in Minnesota just a few weeks ago.
History was made as the first documented attack of a gray wolf on a human occurred in the state of Minnesota. News headlines were made after a teenage boy was attacked by a wolf in northern Minnesota.
As the story goes, a wolf came up behind the teenager in the middle of the night, clamped onto his head fiercely before being forced off by the wolf’s target. The wolf fled, and the teenager received medical attention and a number of staples for the laceration to his head. So the kid’s okay.
Now this story has many differences from the one with the mountain lion, but the question stays the same. What do you do after something like this happens? For the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the clear answer to the wolf attack question was to trap and kill the wolf, which they did shortly after the attack. (It just so happens that the common response to mountain lion attacks on humans is to hunt the attacker with dogs and kill the lion). According to CBS news and a news statement released by the DNR, the animal was captured and killed to permit testing.
But wouldn’t it have been possible for these agencies to capture the wolf and carry out the tests on the wolf while it was simply under sedation? It seems that the decision to kill the wolf was made with little consideration of alternatives.
While these two examples of animal attacks on fellow humans are significant and close to the heart, it is ghastly that the response to any and every animal attack on a human results in the death of the animal. In both cases, with the mountain lion and the wolf, humans acted in a strictly superior manner, without any consideration for animal or the nature of the animal’s existence. It is also neglected that these events occurred when humans moved into the territory of these wild animals.
While it is rare that both wolves and mountain lions come into contact with humans, they represent our unwillingness to abandon our anthropocentrism and let nature run its course. It seems that the first step in any sort of conservation biology will be learning to coexist as best we can in our ecosystems.
This might mean passing on that multimillion dollar estate in the hills of California and letting the mountain lions have their way for once.