Did California Fish and Game wardens do the right thing when they killed a pair of juvenile mountain lions in Half Moon Bay earlier this month?
Nearly everyone who has spoken up about the issue is heartbroken. (And this is one of the town’s most talked about stories of the year, to be sure.) Most, though not all, of our online participants are angry. The lion’s share of the sentiment expressed on Talkabout, in comments about our stories and in letters to the editor, is that wardens made the wrong choice.
The animals were small, an estimated 30 pounds or less. They were young and not the predators they would have become had they been allowed to live. We are the interlopers, after all, having squatted in mountain lion territory long ago. They were not threatening anyone.
So why did they have to die?
Let’s stipulate that these are magnificent animals and that we are privileged to live among them. Known elsewhere as pumas, cougars and catamounts, these big cats live in the remaining wild spaces of the Americas. They may not be at the top of the food chain, but they can surely see it from their hidden perch. As adults, they are nocturnal and hunt alone. Adult males can be 200 pounds or more and measure more than 8 feet long from nose to tip of tail. They are capable of running 50 miles an hour and leaping 18 feet into the air. They are truly awe-inspiring.
They don’t typically attack humans, but they have been known to do so. One jumped a Northern California camper earlier this year.
And that is the problem. Our species has put human life above other forms of animal life. We have killed virtually every kind of animal whenever we perceived a threat. While the young lions sure didn’t seem to be a threat, they were becoming habituated to our neighborhoods. Suppose one returned six months from now and remembered the small children it saw headed for the library. What would the anonymous commenters say then?
Just as we appreciate the lions, we admire our state wardens. We want them to both protect California’s wildlife and its suburban residents. That is a sometimes contradictory challenge. No one wants to see mountain lions killed, and we suspect that is especially true of the men and women who dedicate their lives to the California Department of Fish and Game. They aren’t trigger-happy. They don’t deserve some of the vitriolic criticism they are getting.
Perhaps these animals will not have died in vain if it causes us to rethink state policy that currently seems to preclude relocation of young mountain lions. Maybe our state rangers need some discretion in the field. Maybe we need formal agreements between the state and animal rescue organizations that are willing to assist in in a situation like ours.
This unfortunate incident has given us all the opportunity to learn a little more about the mountain lions among us — and about the ways we might respond to them.