July 31, 1992

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one's neighbor.

Eric Hoffer

In the July 10 issue of this paper, my neighbor Don Wilson took a lot of time telling us how dangerous mountain lions can be to deer, livestock and people. The underlying message seems to be: Don wants to shoot a lion. Before you can shoot a cat, big or small, the public must be convinced that they are bad, bad, bad or dangerous.

He didn't convince me. I know that the chances of me, or a child, being killed or injured by a mountain lion is infinitesimal compared to the chances of being killed or injured by a hunter.

While cougars killing livestock is a big problem in some parts of the country, it only happens occasionally in this area. My guess is that our local female cougars teach their young to eat deer and other wild animals and to avoid people and their possessions. Occasionally a cougar kills a domestic animal. When that happens, a professional hunter with a dog pack runs the the cat down and kills it. The story is printed in the local newspapers.

Don doesn't propose hunting cats where cattle predation is a problem; he wants a permit to kill one here, and I don't want him to get it.

I consider all of the indigenous wildlife as belonging here and approve of messing with it only if it causes problems. If a lion messes with cattle, by all means shoot it. If it doesn't, leave it alone.

We have a healthy population of both deer and mountain lion is this area. If anything, the balance favors the deer. While the deer are visible and numerous, the cougars are very elusive. I have heard the scream of a mountain lion and seen its footprints. I would count myself very fortunate to see one. One of the main attractions of this area is that I might have a chance to see, in the wild, what people pay big bucks to see on safaris. During this lovely season of the year, I have seen many deer; bucks in velvet, does with fauns, including twins. We have seen fauns nursing by the side of the road. Lu has seen a badger and a bear and I see bear scat and footprints every winter.

My neighbor, on the next mountain, has had a bear eat his food and drink his soda pop and beer. He's not angry at the bear and wouldn't think of killing it or having it killed. He can afford another six pack and he figures that the bear has as much right to be there as he does. My experience with our local bears has taught me not to leave anything outside that I don't want a bear to break into. A bear getting into our fish food added a bit of excitement to my otherwise peaceful life.

Don, on the other hand, wants to kill a lion even though the lion hasn't bothered him or his stock. To my mind, that's not very neighborly.

A few weeks ago, I spotted a baby fox that was much too young to be on its own. One eye was closed and the other sunken in. I guessed that something had happened to its mother and that it was too young to hunt for itself. I offered it a dish of canned cat food, which it gobbled; confirming my suspicion that it was hunger not disease that caused it to be in such sad condition. When I picked it up, it curled up in my arms. It was instant love. Who could resist a warm puppy. Charles Schultz was right, "happiness is a warm puppy". We put her in a box in the garage with more food and drink. When we checked on her that evening, she opened one eye and didn't stir. The next morning, the fox wasn't in the box. There were fox pawprints all over the garage including my tractor seat. The fox was curled up in a corner, its eyes fully open, having made a complete recovery. My diagnosis of starvation was a correct one. I coaxed it out of the corner with some more cat food. Apparently, it preferred its independence, because it left the garage that day. Much as I would have liked her to stay, I have no wish to imprison a wild animal. I hope that it found its mother, but doubt it. If mama were alive, the baby probably wouldn't have been starving. If our fox pup doesn't become a meal for some other predator, maybe some day a fox may come by that will not be frightened by my voice. I hope so. It's very easy to fall in love with a baby fox, and I did.

I have no problem with people who kill animals for food; they are part of the totality of life. Carnivorous human predators are just like any other predator. I wonder about people who kill just because they like to kill.

The ethic of the last century was that killing was a proper occupation for men. That ethic is rapidly changing in favor of an ethic that nurtures, rather than destroys life.

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