What do you get when a bureaucracy gets caught with their pants down as in no policy; a situation that has a stench to it? That is exactly what happened with the recent killing of a Cougar by wildlife officers in Bourbon County. Was it the best option, no, did they need to be so quick about it, no, was the image of our state as a top tourist destination enhanced by this action, absolutely not. But these officers are not at fault, there simply were no real protocols.
The real problem here is that these officers had little policy or laws to guide their decision making. Regrettably, under the one law we do have Cougars are classified by state law as “inherently dangerous wildlife,” this list is for a specific purpose which has nothing to do with Cougars in the wild. This list includes bears, wolves and many exotics and is meant to stop ownership of dangerous animals. I believe it is time for the lack of a statewide policy guide on self reestablishing wildlife such as Wolves, Bear and especially Cougars to change in the face of mounting evidence that these cats are migrating back to their old habitat east of the Mississippi River. I would like to see the state put some protections in place for these top tier predators so that they could once again grace our state. We need them to control and balance our deer population to maintain vigorous healthy herds.
You might wonder about what risks we take on if we allow these cats to reestablish in our state. The risk turns out to be very small actually, here are some facts. A lot of people have never seen a Cougar before; I have so I can understand the concern for public safety. But just because you see a Cougar doesn’t mean it’s a threat to you, these cats don’t view us as a food source and attacks are extremely rare. Fatalities are even rarer, for instance in California, which has a large population and thousands of these animals, there have only been 13 attacks since 1986 of which 3 were fatal. Compare that with deer which kill more people every year than dogs, snakes, sharks, mountain lions, bears and alligators combined. On average 130 people are killed in deer/vehicle collisions each year, making deer the most deadly animal in the United States. I might also note that even though deer appear to be harmless creatures the number of attacks on humans by deer is on the increase. An attack by a deer can be brutal causing serious injury or even death.
We will have to wait for test results to know for sure but I suspect this cat was a Juvenile male cougar driven out by his mother. Young males often travel hundreds of miles before finding a suitable area that is unoccupied by another cougar. Dispersing juveniles are particularly at high risk of coming into conflict with resident cougars and with humans. The majority of human/cougar conflicts are with young cats less than two years old. Perhaps this fact weighed in the officers decision to kill this cat.
Sadly, there is no real policy on how field officers are to handle any mountain lion sightings in Kentucky other than to give them the authority to do what is necessary for public safety. In this case, according to officials, the animal was in a populated rural area within two miles of Paris and the officer feared the cat could slip away into the night if it were not killed. Never mind the fact that the cat was treed which meant it probably couldn’t slip anywhere. A more reasoned approach would have been to sit tight and wait for a wildlife biologist to take charge. We will never know what could have been learned had a tracking collar been placed on this cat and its movements monitored. The loss of that opportunity means all that can be done at this point is to formulate a real Cougar policy.
Mountain Lions are the largest cats found in North America and can measure up to eight feet from nose to tail and weigh up to 200 pounds. Also known as cougars, pumas, panthers and catamounts, the cats are considered top-line predators and sensible precautions are in order anytime you venture into their domain. Cougars hunt most actively at dawn and dusk so be aware during those hours. Cougars, like all cats can be triggered to chase quick movement, cyclists, please stay aware of this when zipping down the Dawkin’s trail. Never run from these cats for the same reason. Do hike with a companion and keep dogs on a leash, a loose dog can lead a cat right to you. Remember, don’t approach any Cougar with the purpose to intimidate him, It won’t work.