Trophy hunting organizations and state fish and wildlife agencies are in cahoots in the Southwest in executing ruthless mountain lion killing programs, typically involving radio telemetry equipment, packs of hounds, and rifles and bows they use to shoot lions they’ve driven into trees to kill at point-blank range. The trophy hunters are motivated by bragging rights and taxidermy (they are head hunters, and don’t eat the lions). And the states, in addition to catering to that small subset of hunters and enabling their unsporting methods of killing, view the lions as competitors with human hunters for deer and elk. In their economic calculus, every deer or elk lost to a lion is one less hunting license fee paid to the states, to paraphrase an observation from the esteemed outdoor writer Ted Williams.
But The HSUS and other wildlife protection groups are fighting back, and taking a stand for lions—in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Last week, after legal maneuvers by WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Western Environmental Law Center, state and federal authorities temporarily halted a massive mountain lion “control” program in Colorado ostensibly designed to inflate mule deer populations, pending further environmental review.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife had entered into an agreement with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill hundreds of mountain lions and dozens of black bears on two study sites to determine if these massive predator-control projects could revive the Centennial State’s flagging mule deer population.
These sorts of programs are a fool’s errand. Across the Western U.S., mule deer struggle because of habitat destruction and corridor loss. In Colorado, this has been exacerbated by rampant oil and gas drilling in western Colorado with its spider web of roads and drill pads that have degraded tremendous amounts of former mule deer habitat and migration routes.
And in New Mexico, a federal judge recently rejected the State’s second attempt to dismiss a lawsuit filed by The HSUS and Animal Protection of New Mexico challenging the state’s Department of Game and Fish’s 2016 decision to open a cougar trapping season on public lands—for the first time in almost 50 years. Even though hounding is bad enough, it’s all the more outrageous to allow trapping and snaring programs for lions, since the lions suffer in the traps and the traps catch whatever creature is unlucky enough to trigger the device.
The Commission’s 2016 Cougar Rule radically expands cougar trapping on more than nine million acres of public trust land, including key Mexican wolf habitat, as well as expanding opportunities for trapping on private land. The risk of a cougar trap injuring or killing a Mexican wolf is high due to the similarity in size and habitat preference between the species.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, we are in full battle mode, as we conduct the signature-gathering campaign to qualify a ballot measure to halt any trophy hunting of lions in the state. The measure would also forbid trophy hunting of bobcats, jaguars, ocelots, and lynx, in a state with the richest diversity of wild cat species in the United States.
Despite Western states’ claim of using science, their arguments amount to no more than fake news and faux science. When trophy hunters kill an adult male lion, his females and kittens are susceptible to mortality from incoming males, as many other studies from Utah, Montana, and Washington have shown. Killing one male lion results in the death of numerous other lions, particularly dependent kittens, who are cannibalized by incoming males. And if a trophy hunter kills an adult female, any kittens under 12 months of age will likely die from starvation, predation, or exposure.
Two summers ago, Americans reacted with outrage in seeing an American trophy hunter grinning over an African lion he killed in Zimbabwe. He conducted that hunt for no other reasons than bragging rights and the trophy. The people who kill mountain lions here in the Southwest are motivated by the same purposes.
Lions strengthen population of deer and elk. They are needed apex predators in intact ecosystems. The states have no idea how many lions they have, and their programs are a relic of antiquated attitudes towards predators.
It’s one thing to kill animals for meat. It’s another to do it just for the heads. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it’s the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.
P.S. Using cutting-edge, remote-camera technologies, Panthera discovered that mountain lions are far more social than biologists ever realized—despite 60 years’ research. Females share their kills with other females and their kittens and even with the adult territorial male. In return, the adult males protect the females and all of his kittens from immigrating males. If left undisturbed, mountain lions have a stable social society where reciprocity between individuals is shared. A revolutionary finding.