Part one is here.
As mentioned in the part one post I am doing more of a book report rather than the typical ChicagoBoyz book review. The reason for this is that I am just in the beginning stages of learning about cougars, their habitat and their ways. IMHO you can’t really review a book if you don’t know the subject. Recently a cougar was shot dead in Roscoe Village, just outside of Chicago. As of this writing it appears that this cougar was wild, not a released pet.
This last part of my book report will concentrate on the last two sections of the book, Borrowed Time and Plague.
Borrowed Time begins by dedicating a portion to proving that the newly expanded cougar population were beginning to consider humans as prey. Scientists began to collect data on cougar sightings and what they did – how they acted, and noted their locations. Eventually some conclusions were made. P. 92:
“These traits indicate predatory, rather than defensive behavior”, Fitzhugh said. In other words, the bold actions of the cougars in Casper Park could not be explained as the simple result of curiosity or fear or territoriality; the lions were sizing up park visitors as potential meals.
A few meetings to discuss the more frequent lion sightings were called.
Unfortunately most of the biologists and citizens at these meetings weren’t buying it (that the cats were indicating predatory behavior) and demanded a hands off approach to the cougars. Well, cats and dogs began disappearing in the neighborhood. Deer carcasses were beginning to be found in people’s yards, with the telltale signs of a kill by a cougar – mainly covering up the carcass for later dining. Most disturbing was the fact that dogs were getting taken – canines are the millenia old enemy of the cougar and now the cougars were not only getting used to them, but considering them prey. More than likely this fear of dogs by the cougar stemmed from the wolf hunting the cougar long ago in the wild. But p. 100 sums up the new situation:
The stage had been set for Boulder’s cougars to view dogs differently.
Not only were they viewing the dogs differently, they began to view humans and their surroundings differently as well.
There is an interesting story that lasts for a whole chapter about some gentlemen who started a deer farm to raise meat for restaurants. Eventually a cougar began making those deer into meals and they had to eliminate it. Information is given about how cougars operate in the wild, and how to track them and to eliminate them. I had no idea that the best (only?) way to do this is with a pack of hounds. It was fascinating to me to understand how the dogs eventually treed the cougar and then the humans eliminated it.
Eventually the sightings of cougars got enough attention to warrant another meeting of citizens. The people in the book who had been pounding the table on trying to prevent the cougars from naturalizing themselves to the outskirts of the towns were shocked to find out that most of the people of the meeting did not fear for human safety (still!), but cared more about the lions. The officials (who were proven right in the end) were stunned and saddened. P. 158:
The meeting’s protectionist direction stunned Rick and Teresa Overmeyer. They and other worried parents and pet owners had hoped this gathering would persuade the Division of Wildlife to take stronger action against pet-killing cougars, but just the opposite was happening. The pro-lion contingent grilled wildlife officials… The division was now pledging to do less in the future and yet, for all anyone knew…, the dog eating lion remained at large.
And this from p. 166 is a bit scary:
Michael Sanders feared that, in Boulder, dogs could be the “gateway drug” that turned cougars on to humans.
Part 3, Plague, describes cougar attacks and it is chilling. Humans were being actively stalked, and even super liberal Boulder had had enough. The Division of Wildlife and even the office of the Governor of Colorado was getting many calls. But Boulder County’s request for help was largely ignored. The state officials had pleaded with the citizens of Boulder not to feed and welcome a herd of deer into their town and felt offended that now they are called in to clean up the mess. P. 180:
“Boulder had pretty much created their problem, with the vast amount of open space they had and the fact that it made managing the numbers of deer so problematic that we couldn’t do a thing with it”, recalls former division director Olson. “All the hunting was cut off; the deer numbers went up through the roof. Boulder County’s general attitude was, ‘Screw management. We don’t care about that. We’ll just protect everything.’ And the same people that are preaching that kind of bullshit are sitting around and whining, then, when the consequences don’t turn out exactly like they wanted them to.”
A whole chapter is dedicated to the story of a high school boy who was killed by a cougar while out running – and the next chapter to the investigation. Now, unfortunately much too late, everything was set in motion. The game wardens who had been trying to get people to do something before a human got killed were proven right – and the city mobilized to try to take action against the cougars.
In the Epilogue, I was taken by this quote on p. 237:
Whether guided by a divine hand or biological imperative, the mountain lions are sending a message; they are signaling a change of era, not just to those few who have had direct encounters with them but to America as a whole. The cats, emboldened and proliferating, are heralds of a new stage in the nation’s evolution, a changed relationship between man and nature that will require an attendant adjustment in cultural attitudes. (Bold and italics mind – Dan)
The reason I was taken aback by this quote is that I read many accounts on the cougar shooting in Chicago just a few days ago. Many of the comments indicated furor with the Chicago police for shooting the cougar rather than darting and transporting it away. These people simply did not understand how cougars operate and that a city is no place for them to be. Waiting around for a darter to show up vs. the chance that the cat could escape and menace the neighborhood is, to me, a no brainer.
The Beast in the Garden is written very well and is easy to understand for people with no training on the subject of wild animals and ecology. The book is pretty hard to put down. If you are queasy about blood, this book may not be for you as lion attacks are described in gory detail, and information on how lions eat their prey (including humans) is ample in the book. For those who are interested in the subject I cannot recommend this book enough. I would like to thank the commenter who suggested I read it a few weeks ago. I usually don’t take up homework assignments from strangers, but I am glad that I bought this book. I think we will be hearing more and more about cougars in the coming months and years and hope that people will be educated on the subject and that cougars will be controlled. Or else, one day, that shadow in your backyard might not be the raccoon that you are used to seeing.