- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

As concerns that attack by a mountain lion in Lake Forest, Calif., and the subsequent death of a man and serious injury to a woman, you are aware that it’s not the first time a California cougar has jumped a human with the full intent of doing bodily harm — or getting an easy meal — aren’t you?

Yet immediately following deplorable incidents such as mountain lions attacking hikers, grizzly bears jumping a salmon fisherman, or even black bears (erroneously thought to be harmless) taking a bite out of a camper somewhere, there’ll be the usual idiotic follow-up by someone who says, “Actually, such attacks are very rare.”

Yeah? Well, tell that to the person who just got mauled, or explain it to his or her next of kin in the case of death.

Of course they’re rare because humans generally do not hang around in wild places where animals live that can easily kill a man, woman or child. Duh!

Seriously, does it require a doctorate to understand as sensible an explanation as that?

Last month one of the wire services passed along an item about a Russian man who was killed by a brown bear. Predictably, there was a footnote to the incident saying that such attacks are very rare. For heaven’s sake, the man was attacked in an area of this huge country where the bears most likely outnumber the humans. Thus, if a person strolls into the bruins’ domain, there’s a fair chance something will happen to the two-legged intruder.

In the California cougar incident, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that cougars who are losing suitable habitat to ever-increasing human intrusion by way of housing developments, plus a loss of natural food supplies (deer and rabbits, to name two), eventually discover that to survive they might need to turn to humans as a food source. They also might attack brazenly because they’ve lost their natural fear of humans. Remember, despite a growing California cougar population, it is illegal to hunt the big cats.

A 5-year-old California girl was attacked by a mountain lion in 1986; she survived half blind and paralyzed. That same year, a little boy was attacked and severely injured. There also have been incidents in which natural resources policemen have had to shoot cougars because they got too close to human habitat and were thought to be threatening people.

Along those lines, do you remember the man from California who wanted to show the world how harmless grizzly bears were? Every summer he’d go to Alaska to live with his “brothers,” the bears. He’d crawl around on all fours, bears all around him, with a dumb look on his face that said, “Look, Mom, no problem. The bears love me.” When I first saw this screwball on a “Dateline NBC” program, I said it would only be a matter of time before he’d be killed by a grizzly. During the summer of 2003, he was. Guess the bears didn’t think of him as a brother after all.

The point of all this is very simple. Large, occasionally aggressive wildlife and humans do not mix well. We need to learn to stay out of their territory if we want them to be here for us to admire — even if it has to be from afar — or accept the possible risk of injury or death.

And in Southern California where cougars seem not to be bothered by the humans they practically live with every day, maybe it’s time to bother them a little to restore a long-lost apprehension of man.

As my friend Ray Arnett, of Stockton, Calif., who’s hunted and fished all over the world, said, “Just wait until the population of transplanted wolves starts to build up in Wyoming and elsewhere. Chances are there will be more stories such as [the one about the cougars].”

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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