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Mountain Lion: Once Endangered, Now A Danger

1949 words - 8 pages

On April 23, 1994, as Barbara Schoener was jogging in the Sierra foothills of California, a mountain lion pounced on her from behind. After an apparent struggle with her attacker, Schoener was killed by bites to her neck and head (Rychnovsky 39). In 1996, because of Schoener's death and other highly publicized attacks, California politicians presented voters with Proposition 197, which contained provisions repealing much of a 1990 law enacted to protect the lions. The 1990 law outlawed sport hunting of mountain lions and even prevented the Department of Fish and Game from thinning the lion population.Proposition 197 was rejected by a large margin, probably because the debate turned into a struggle between hunting and anti-hunting factions. When California politicians revisit the mountain lion question, they should frame the issue in a new way. A future proposition should retain the ban on sport hunting but allow the Department of Fish and Game to control the population. Wildlife management would reduce the number of lion attacks on humans and in the end would also protect the lions.The once-endangered mountain lionTo early Native Americans, mountain lions--also known as cougars, pumas, and panthers--were objects of reverence. The European colonists, however, did not share the Native American view. They conducted what Ted Williams calls an "all-out war on the species" (29). The lions were eliminated from the eastern United States except for a small population that remains in the Florida Everglades.The lions lingered on in the West, but in smaller and smaller numbers. At least 66,665 lions were killed between 1907 and 1978 in Canada and the United States (Hansen 58). As late as 1969, the country's leading authority on the big cat, Maurice Hornocker, estimated the United States population as fewer than 6,500 and probably dropping (Williams 30).Resurgence of the mountain lionIn western states today, the mountain lion is no longer in danger of extinction. In fact, over the past thirty years, the population has rebounded dramatically. In California, fish and game officials estimate that since 1972 lion numbers have increased from 2,400 to at least 6,000 ("Lion" A21).Similar increases are occurring outside of California. For instance, for nearly fifty years, mountain lions had virtually disappeared from Yellowstone National Park, but today lion sightings are increasingly common. In 1992, Hornocker estimated that at least eighteen adults were living in the park (59). In the United States as a whole, some biologists estimate that there are as many as 50,000 mountain lions, a dramatic increase over the 1969 estimate of 6,500 (Williams 30).For the millions of Americans interested in the preservation of animal species, this is good news, but unfortunately, the increase has led to a number of violent encounters between human and lion.Increasing attacks on humansThere is no doubt that more and more humans are being attacked. A glance at figure 1, a graph of...

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