I woke up this morning to a clear crisp Autumn day and a picture of another majestic cougar slain by Illinois law enforcement splashed across the front page of The Chicago Tribune.
This two year old 100 lb., six foot wild cat was found doing what such animals do on a farm in Whiteside County Wednesday: looking for a safe place to sleep during the day. He was shot dead at the request of the farmer, who deemed him a threat to his “pets and horses.”
In 2008, in a similar incident, another cougar was shot and killed when he was observed on the north side of Chicago. Like this latest cat, he hadn’t threatened or hurt anyone.
There is no legislation to protect these animals because they are not deemed to have a “breeding population” in the land of Lincoln, and evidently they keep showing up here because not enough South Dakotans and Oregonians are murdering them in their own state, forcing young males to find new territory. South Dakota’s solution is to raise the number of cougars which can legally be hunted every year, and Illinois lawmakers are hoping that this measure will solve our problem.
In the meantime, our default position is: kill those cats.
I am not the only one disturbed by this policy. Bruce Patterson, the curator of mammals at the Field Museum, believes we need new measures which would ensure the safety of the public and wildlife alike. But the officer and the local police department responsible for the cougar’s death, much like the police department in 2008, are defending their actions, claiming that tranquilizers are too hard to use accurately, and that moving a tranquilized 100 lb. cat is too difficult.
Really? It seems to me, if you can shoot a rifle, you can just as easily shoot a tranq gun, and what exactly is so challenging about moving a 100 lb. unconscious animal?
After the barest minimum of research, I discovered that only nine people have been killed by cougars, also called mountain lions, in the past 109 years.
On the list of the most deadly species in America they are number nine…deer are number one. Cougars are elusive and generally stick to remote areas, unless they are driven out of their territories by urban sprawl.
Most interestingly, by hunting cougars in an attempt to control their numbers, we are making them more dangerous. The social structures they have in place become fragmented when older males are eliminated, leaving the younger, more aggressive males to roam in places they would otherwise avoid.
Of all the states which boast a cougar population, only California protects them under the law. The fact that they are protected in that state, however, proves it is possible to do so.
Jane Goodall, (among countless other wildlife activists), renowned for her pioneering work with gorillas, and also a California resident, shares my belief that these big cats can, and should, be protected. In fact, she said when she discovered that they weren’t legally protected in any but her home state, she was shocked. Like me, she can’t seem to fathom any reason that would be the case.
When I saw that horrific image of a lifeless mountain lion today, his spectacular form forever stilled, his life extinguished needlessly, I was filled with such sorrow.
This cat was found sleeping under a corn crib, just trying to find a safe place to while away the daylight hours. He was not threatening anyone or anything, hadn’t injured any animal or person, and never even had the chance to run. His death is unacceptable and disgraceful.
I fervently hope that Illinois authorities are, as they claim, examining other tactics for handling future cougar sightings. As custodians of this earth, it is the least we can do to make and enforce laws which protect all life, not just human life.
I know this is one of an infinite number of crimes against nature, and that they are all deserving of air time, but to leave it unaddressed, particularly because it landed on my stoop this morning with such an unceremonious thump, would be unconscionable.
I will be following this story with great concern, and will continue to write about it and hopefully help draw transformative attention to it. “When we know better, we do better”, as Maya Angelou says. We have no excuse not to do better here.
Like elephant journal on Facebook.
Editor: Catherine Monkman