Imagine the terror. Without warning, a lion hears chaotic barking from a pack of dogs. The barking gets louder as the dogs close in on her. She runs in the opposite direction. The barking continues. Winded, she uses her extraordinary muscles and claws to climb a tree as nimbly and effortlessly as a squirrel, and rests on a tree limb 50 feet off the ground.
The dogs follow the scent, tracking her to her location, looking up to the canopy, and baying at the tree. She’s nervous, but seemingly safe, with the dogs unable to scale the tree.
Yet, little does she know that humans are following her too, tracking the hounds’ location with a directional antenna that is synced with radio collars around the dogs’ necks.
The hunter arrives, led there by a guide with tracking equipment. The guide gives the go-ahead. The hunter takes aim with his rifle, and the crack of the shot can be heard for miles around. The lion holds on even though a bullet has pierced her side. Her pursuer assumes a shooting stance for a second time, and this time his shot knocks her out of the tree. She falls 50 feet with a thud, and the dogs pounce on her, squeezing out any little life that remains.
It’s an American trophy hunt. And it happens with unnerving regularity in a majority of Western states and even some Midwestern states.
According to an HSUS report released today, American trophy hunters over the last three decades have shot and killed more than 78,000 mountain lions.
The report, created with support from the Summerlee Foundation, provides an extensive review of the status of mountain lions in America, including their natural history, current plans for state management, population size, and the major threats these animals face, like poisoning, disease, vehicle collisions, and starvation. The overwhelming threat to the survival of these animals, however, comes from trophy hunting and habitat loss.
Hunting groups like Safari Club International have, in recent years, promoted the killing of mountain lions for trophies, by offering awards, certificates, and killing contests to reward and encourage trophy hunters. SCI’s award categories like the “North American 29,” “Cats of the World” and “Trophy Animals of North America” include mountain lions.
The HSUS report finds that trophy hunters often flout laws, regulations, and quotas in states that permit hunting them. The methods used to kill are among the cruelest: most mountain lions are killed either with the aid of hounds or by trapping with cruel steel-jawed leghold traps and wire neck or leg snares. Of the 14 states that allow the trophy hunting of mountain lions, 12 permit “hounding,” which involves chasing the animal by packs of trailing dogs, enabling the trophy hunter to shoot the cat at close range.
Research shows that the magnitude of the killing is unsustainable. Three long-term studies of trophy hunting of mountain lions in the West and Midwest have recommended a hunting quota between eight and 14 percent, but in most states the quotas far exceed those numbers. For instance, Colorado, ignoring its own long-term study of the effects of trophy hunting on a mountain lion population, permits trophy hunters to kill up to 28 percent of the population in some management units. In 2015, Utah approved a management plan permitting 20 to 30 percent offtake of its estimated entire statewide lion population despite biologists’ suggestion to use a more “conservative” approach, and in 2016 it actually proposed to increase offtake further. In 2015, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks suggested that over 32 percent of its mountain lion population could be hunted.
There is also no reliable data detailing the size and trends of mountain lion populations within the states where mountain lions reside. Understanding the size of a state’s mountain lion population is essential for wildlife managers to properly conserve the species and prevent mountain lions from being overhunted and exploited. On the other hand, unreliable data can lead to wildlife agencies permitting the over-hunting of mountain lions, by setting annual hunting quotas that are too high to conserve the species.
The report advances key strategies for addressing the challenges faced by mountain lions, including protected species designation for the lions, state wildlife agency reforms, and improved habitat protection. The HSUS has worked to outlaw any trophy hunting of lions in California, and banned hounding in Oregon and Washington. We have also initiated a litigation campaign challenging New Mexico’s decision to open the state – including public lands – to recreational mountain-lion trapping using steel-jawed leghold traps and snares.
Mountain lions pose a minimal risk to humans and, in fact, coexist well with human communities. Recent research indicates that the majority of Americans hold positive attitudes toward mountain lions, and a variety of studies suggest that Americans oppose the trophy hunting of America’s big cats.
Killing mountain lions benefits no one except a handful of trophy hunters eager to display animal body parts in their living rooms. Nobody eats the cats, so it’s trophy hunting in its purest form.
We were all rightly outraged about the killing of Cecil in 2015 by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. We should be just as outraged about American trophy hunters doing the same thing here, mainly on our public lands in the United States.
Click here to read the full report State of the Mountain Lion: A Call to End Trophy Hunting of America’s Lion.