Animal Rights Term Paper

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[. . .] Losing these predators can tilt the ecological balance, and create other implications throughout the animal food chain. For example, when these top predators disappear from the landscape, other species that share their habitats can experience with overpopulation or population decline. First, overpopulation occurs as the predator-fewer environments encourages swift growth of species which typically would be targets of cougar hunting, such as other large mammals like sheep, coyotes, deer, etc. When the population of these animals grows too large, the result is a shortage of natural resources, such as food and adequate range area. Consequently, the prey species experience advancing death rates due to malnutrition, lack of adequate breeding, or disease spread due to the overcrowding.

Another problem for the cougar is the new suburban developments which shrink cougar habitat and create habitat islands, thus placing a greater number of cougars in close contact with humans. Mixing cougars and humans can be as dangerous as mixing gasoline and sparks. Sooner of later they encounter each other with disastrous consequences. Increasing the chances for cougar-human encounters is the source of ongoing debates over the policy of protecting the rights of this dangerous carnivore. When cougars become too populous on limited habitat, they become more aggressive in seeking new territory. In addition, cougars which are not hunted for over a period of time begin to loose their fear of mankind, thus doubly increasing the risk of contact between humans and the big cats. The result is harm to humans or the eventual destruction of cougars.

In Colorado, suburban expansion around Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs continually creeps into cougar habitat, converting wild areas with settlements, and displacing cougars. In California, cougar populations on the outskirts of San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles are coping with human expansion, but while the cat is flexible, these pressures from ever-increasing urban areas puts cougar and the human populations at significant risk.

Cougars join several other imperiled wild cats that are featured in NWF's report. (nwf.org, online) Although many acres of wild lands have been degraded or destroyed in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, many important areas of wild habitat still support cats. The purpose of the ESA is to conserve these lands and thereby help North America's wild cats survive. In areas like southern California, and the Rocky Mountain regions of Colorado where native habitat has been so greatly reduced, conservation efforts must focus on preserving what little native land is left, and then protecting additional wilderness areas

During the 1960s and 1970s, many state wildlife departments reclassified the mountain lion from vermin to game animal, and thus gave the big cat a greater measure of protection. The setting aside of 700 million acres of public land and the passage of legislation such as the Wilderness Act have protected critical habitat and improved chances for the cat's survival. Currently, however, wildlife managers point to increased sightings, as well as increased attacks on livestock and people. Compared to the status of cougar populations at the turn of the century -- when most states still paid bounties -- the animals certainly seem to be resurgent in many parts of western North America. Many wildlife professionals believe the cougar is now making a comeback and due to this fact, the endangered species moniker not only relates to the big cat, but also to those who may be the feline's prey

The Problem of protection

Mountain-lion numbers have increased across the West," agrees cougar expert Kenney Logan. Logan and Linda Sweanor, his colleague and wife, are about to complete a 10-year lion study in the San Andres Mountains of southern New Mexico. "But it is important to understand that lions are recovering from depressed numbers, not just increasing. They are reestablishing populations in many areas. Man has been a dramatic mortality factor on cougar populations over the last 200 years, and now we are simply not killing as many. Game status and the elimination of state-supported bounty hunters helped." (Hansen, 1995)

Encounters between humans and mountain lions, including some attacks, are on the increase throughout the West. It was once rare, among even seasoned hikers and backpackers, to come in contact with a mountain lion in the wild. Not any more. Unlike wild grizzlies, wolves and panthers, who have not adapted to our sprawling presence, mountain lions are "a success story," says Howard Quigley, president of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute in Moscow, Idaho. "From Patagonia to British Columbia, mountain lions are the most successful large predator in the western hemisphere." (Lyons, 1996)

Maurice Hornocker, the founder of the Hornocker Wildlife Institute and, for the past three decades, the dean of mountain lion research, points to two reasons for their success in this age of vanishing ecosystems and species: The first, he says, is the resurgence of deer and elk, the main staple of any lion's diet. A second reason, says Hornocker, "is greater regulation of lion hunting. In Idaho, for example, upgrading mountain lions from 'vermin' to 'game' status helped tremendously."

We've come a long way from what biologist Paul Beier calls the "persecution era," when mountain lions were shot as casually and with the same vicious compunction as are coyotes today. In a 1991 study published in the Wildlife Sociology Bulletin, Beier documented every single mountain lion attack in the western U.S. And two western Canadian provinces since 1890. Beier's study found nine fatal attacks and 44 non-fatal attacks for those 100 years, a fraction of the number of people who were killed by dogs - or even bee stings - each year. (Lyons, 1996)

California, which has about 5,000 of the controversial felines, banned all mountain lion hunting in 1990 with the passage of Proposition 117. (Mountainlion.org, online) "Five years after shooting every mountain lion seen, of course there's been an increase in numbers," Beier says. Nonetheless, many hunters in California want to reinstate a mountain lion hunting season, trying, as in earlier times in the West, to portray the mountain lion as an aggressive stalker and vicious killer of humans.

Although a precise census of California's cougar population is lacking, the state's human population has tripled in the past 40 years. Many of these people have settled in the brushy country of the western Sierra Nevada and in the Coast Ranges which are both prime lion habitats. San Diego, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area all have adjacent mountain-lion populations. More people are exploring wilderness areas than ever before. This is one reason there are increasing numbers of cougar sightings, -- more people are entering their habitat.

Urban, residential, and agricultural development encroaches on cougar habitat throughout North America. In Colorado, the growing urban corridor that extends along the eastern shoulder of the Rocky Mountains, from Boulder south to Denver and Colorado Springs, presses in on the margins of cougar country, and the growing cougar population combined with an expanding human population its formula for dangerous encounters. People are simply moving to places where lions always have been and people never were.

Unlike early hunters and ranchers who probably shot cougars on sight, modern hikers who see a cougar in the wild consider themselves lucky and are more likely to report the sighting to a ranger. Additionally, when lions show up near populated areas and are subjected to the alarmist scrutiny of the media, the lions are quickly labeled a threat. A TYPICAL population is composed of resident adults, their cubs, and transients. Cubs usually disperse from their mother's home range sometime during their second year and become transients, wandering for a year or more in search of their own home range. In one Nevada population, males traveled up to 31 miles from their birth areas, while females averaged 18 miles. One young cougar marked in northern Wyoming appeared in northern Colorado, 300 miles from the original location. (Hansen, 1995)

Lions are most commonly found in areas with plentiful food, such as deer or sheep, and adequate cover. Such conditions exist not only in remote, primitive country but also remain intact in some in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes, and open space adjacent to housing projects. Due to this increased proximity and higher cougar numbers, attacks on humans have increased in the past 20 years. Last April, Barbara Schoener, a 40-year-old mother and marathoner, was killed by a cougar while running one morning. She was the first person killed by a mountain lion in California in 85 years. In January 1991, 18-year-old Scott Lancaster met a similar fate while running near his high school in Idaho Springs, Colorado. (Hansen, 1995)

Dr. Paul Beier, a wildlife ecologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, has documented 67 cougar attacks since 1890, 50 of them since 1970. Of the total, 12 attacks were fatal and eight of those occurred after 1970 -- three in the last four years, one each in Colorado, British Columbia, and California. Children were more likely victims than adults, with age's five to nine being the most… [END OF PREVIEW]

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