Mountain lions can save lives. This has been suggested by safety experts, who took the lead from a group of wildlife scientists from Western states and Alaska who have been studying the effect that cougars have upon road accidents.
Sophie Gilbert a wildlife ecologist working at the University of Idaho and Laura Prugh of the University of Washington and colleagues in Alaska have published a paper in a journal called Conservation Letters. They begin their paper with a startling fact, namely that each year deer in America cause 1.2 million collisions. The collisions cause 29,000 human injuries and more than 200 human deaths on American roads. The deer is the country’s most dangerous large mammal.
Cougars prey on deer. And there lies the key to the suggestion that cougars can save lives. It has been suggested that mountain lions in New York, New Jersey and in other eastern American states could prevent 155 deaths and 21,400 injuries over 30 years.
Of course, they have to factor into this very simple equation the undeniable fact that mountain lions do very rarely attack people although it is normally young adults or children who were unsupervised. The scientists have been, I think, quite generous in estimating that cougars would kill less than one person a year on average while preventing five deaths and 700 injuries. Therefore the net result is the saving of human lives. I think you could argue that mountain lions actually kill much less than one person per several years. As I recall only 18 deaths have occurred as a result of cougar attacks on people over the past hundred years or more and most don’t lead to the death of the person. That’s one in more than five years and I also recall that there hasn’t been a recent death by cougar attack.
We know that cougars have been wiped out from eastern states. This occurred towards the end of the 19th century. That said, many people believe that there are cougars in the eastern states of the USA. There have been sightings. This is because cougars sometimes travel vast distances from the West to find their own territory in the East. One mountain lion was involved in a car accident in June 2011 in Connecticut, 35 miles from New York City. William Stolzenberg wrote a book (Heart of a Lion) about the journey that a mountain lion took from South Dakota. The cat travelled north of the Great Lakes before turning south in search of a mate.
In addition, of course, we cannot forget Florida which has its own cougar, the Florida Panther, although the population is very small and vulnerable and, incidentally, inbred.
The scientists predictions are supported by information from South Dakota which it is said has been recently re-colonised by cougars. The cats appear to have caused a 9% reduction in deer-related car crashes over eight years.
The theory is good and sound that cougars can save lives by reducing traffic accidents caused by deer but there is the psychological barrier. The psychological barrier is that people are frightened of the mountain lion but people are not frightened of being involved in a traffic accident with a deer. That is a substantial barrier to any thoughts about rewilding the eastern states of America with mountain lions! The barrier might be overcome by the logical conclusion that the cats can save lives.
Source: The Times Newspaper