From an old book review I googled up after yesterday's encounter with a mountain lion on Hermosa Creek Trail. In the comments on my post about the incident, Michael McNeil said:
While actually encountering a mountain lion on a trail might certainly be expected to inspire concern, it is not sensible to be overly worried that “he was going to pounce on me.”I searched the Instapundit archive for "mountain lion" and think Glenn is talking not about extermination but self-defense, the reduction of numbers through hunting, and preserving the animals' fear of people (which is presumably the reason why, in the past, there have been so few attacks). Glenn is also interested in something I'm fascinated by: human sentimentality about animals. And then there is the more general human problem of the way sentimentality interferes with the perception of danger:
Folks might like to peruse this page from the California Department of Fish and Game listing all verified mountain lion attacks in the state over the last almost 120 years — this in a state of (now) more than 35 million people, millions of whom live in relatively remote suburbs where tens of thousands of mountain lions roam in close proximity.
Notice the number: a grand total of 16, only six of which were fatal, while two of those were due to rabies.
Clearly, it takes a mountain lion that is extremely seriously deranged by their standards — such as sick with rabies (which obviously not very many are) — not just hungry or even starving — for it to attack a human. Thus, there's no reason for inordinate concern even if one does see a lion.
Glenn Reynolds posts every now and then about mountain lions, and while they're obviously capable of harming people, he talks as if in fact they're an extremely dangerous threat that should be exterminated from all human-occupied areas (i.e., nearly everywhere these days). Given the foregoing statistics, that's plain nuts.
Note that I live in a neighborhood in California where a lion was seen just a month or two ago, so I'm not just blithely talking from some locale remote from the “danger.” Personally I find those statistics quite reassuring, as should we all.
One need only look at the treatment of such other topics as crime, terrorism, and warfare to see examples of the same sort of misplaced sentimentality and willful ignorance. Tolerance of criminality leads to more crime; tolerance of terrorism leads to more terrorism; efforts to appear defenseless lead to war....The challenge is to get into the zone of clear thinking. We need to be alert but not paranoid. Our ancestors survived — and we therefore exist — because they noticed things and acted. Maybe they overdid it and stamped out various animals and human beings who triggered their innate edginess. The mellowest humans lost out in the evolutionary struggle, and we have inherited a tendency to overreact to things that feel dangerous, like a big cat slipping across the trail 150 feet away. But we have the capacity to gather accurate information and to think about exactly how dangerous a cat at that distance is. We also have the ability to think about whether our love for beautiful animals means we can welcome them in our yard or our house. We have instincts and we have big brains, and we need to use them.
The effort to remake the world so that it is safe for predators seems rather odd to me. What sort of person would rather be prey? The sort who lives in upscale neighborhoods, and campaigns against hunting, apparently. I suspect that over the long term this isn't a viable evolutionary strategy in a world where predators abound.