Why Do Cougars Attack?
As cougar (Felis concolor) numbers continue to grow, the encounters between them and their human neighbors increase also. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Researchers have found that cougars can (and do) live in close proximity to humans without causing any problems. In fact, frequently cougars are so stealthy, suburbanites don’t even know they are as close as they are.
Hunting Ban Theory
So the question remains, what causes cougars to attacks humans or livestock? One theory suggests that cougars are more likely to attack in areas where cougar hunting is banned. Not only does hunting reduce cougar numbers, says the theory, but it also “reminds” cougars that humans are dangerous and they should be avoided.
Unruly Teenager Theory
Robert Wieglas of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University has another theory. He argues that the cougars that attack are young cougars that have not been properly socialized by the mature cougars. Just as upper classmen act as peer pressure to the underclassmen, so adult cougars keep younger male cougars “in check.” The problem, says Wieglas, is that hunting removes a disproportionate number of adult male cougars, so the younger males lacking the oversight of older cats, become unruly. There is some evidence suggesting that there may be a point here. About half of all cougar attacks (either on people or livestock) come from juvenile cougars.
Not everyone agrees with Wieglas’ theory. One thought is that attacks are not related to age but to the newness of the cat to the area. As cougars disperse, they are food stressed and will go after “easy” prey (cattle and people) until they learn where the good hunting grounds are. The other challenge is that hunting is not like selecting bar-coded inventory. Hunters can’t simply age the animals while they are hunting. It isn’t that easy.
Research continues on the causes of cougar attacks. Time will tell if either of these theories or perhaps a new one will carry the day.
This blog based on an article in Conservation Oct-Dec, 2009 pp.28-34.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a certified wildlife control operator who helps individuals, businesses, and agencies resolve wildlife damage issues through training, writing, expert witness, and research. His latest book is the Wildlife Damage Inspection Handbook, 3rd edition. He can be contacted at stephenvantassel at Hotmail dot com.
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