August 11, 2009

"So many were so invested in the notion that by thinking peaceful thoughts they could will into existence a state of peaceful affairs..."

"... that they ignored the evidence right in front of them, which tended to suggest that cougars were quite happy to eat anything that was juicy, delicious, and unlikely to fight back."

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.”

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.
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:
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 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.
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.

49 comments:

ironrailsironweights said...

From what I understand, you should always stand upright if you spot a mountain lion, do not crouch down. Mountain lions do not recognize upright things as "prey" and seldom will attack.

Peter

TRO said...

And to think you were talking about cougars . . . I thought you were talking about North Korea, Iran, and radical Islam.

Second thought, after reading the cougar thing, was about Hulk Hogan's ex and her 19 year old meal, err, boy toy.

Scott M said...

When stories like this crop up and the eco-nuts come out of their hovels, the one detail that is almost never mentioned (when dealing with predators) is preserving the fear of humans in the target population. This is a very real facet to the problem that even the outdoorsie-types that are all for hunting to control population never seem to mention.

My favorite animal control (eco-nuts vs hunters/property owners) was back around 1997 or so and I think it was either Colorado or Wyoming.

If memory serves, the local hunters and rational thinkers wanted to hunt wolves to keep the population down. The eco-nuts won the day and made it illegal to hunt wolves. Within a couple of years, populations of the prey species were dropping dangerously because there were simply too many friggin' wolves.

A hearty lol at that one...

Original Mike said...

yesterday's encounter with a mountain lion on Hermosa Creek Trail. .

Cool!

Big Mike said...

Glenn Reynolds has the right of it. We are meat, and nothing more, unless we make the predator fear us.

That goes for the crazy lady (Donna Munson) in Ouray, who gave some poor bear indigestion -- if not when it ate her then when it ingested lead bullets from the county deputy sheriffs.

@ironrails, apparently the trick is to appear to be too massive and too unafraid. Small or running == prey. Big maybe is something that can eat me. That's pretty much the limit of their cognition.

bearbee said...

Mountain lions are shy. Wild animals as just that......wild, and need to be respected as such by humans and....left....alone.

Circuses and zoos do a disservice by portraying wild animals as cute, cuddly and as liking to make humans laugh while being forced to do stupid, unnatural tricks.

The building of American resulted in huge ranges of old forest destruction displacing wildlife.

Humans continue encroaching into wild animal territory, cutting historic animal corridors, resulting in human-animal conflict particularly in the emerging countries where forests are being clear-cut by loggers and land then converted to farming.

I do not wish to live in a 'Blade Runner' type society where the animals are electronic robots.

ricpic said...

In Yellowstone I had no problem in my many encounters with prairie dogs. Although their squeaks scared me. What can I tellya, I'd never make a mountain man.

ironrailsironweights said...

About 15 to 20 people a year in the United States die from being attacked by cows.

Peter

Richard Fagin said...

You sound so much like those people who wanted to "understand" communists and islamofascists. Understanding in this context means recognizing that these creatures will try to kill you if they sense the opportunity. All the rationalizing and "big braining" in the world won't change that.

Richard Dolan said...

This post invites consideration of the ways in which feelings, values and interests intersect and, often, collide.

Glenn wants to use this vignette for a bit of social criticism: "What sort of person would rather be prey? The sort who lives in upscale neighborhoods, and campaigns against hunting, apparently." Those latte-loving, upscale folks (not to be confused with the well dressed types, reviled by the Dems, showing up to protest ObamaCare) rarely come off well in Glenn's view of the world, and his way of popping their balloon is always entertaining. Apart from having some fun with them, Glenn goes for the sensible middle-road: keeping predators at bay by "preserving the animals' fear of people."

We don't have many mountain lions in Brooklyn, and so I can't say this is a problem of burning urgency here. But Glenn's solution sounds sensible to me.

Ann wants to use the same incident to get past utilitarian considerations (basically a problem in economics). Her target is deeper in the human make-up: "We have instincts and we have big brains, and we need to use them." It's related, she says, to evolutionary struggle and inherited tendencies and something she refers to as a "viable evolutionary strategy." Perhaps. More interesting (to me, at least) than the specific issue of human/predator interactions is the picture of the human person implied by these musings. There is a lot of Damasio lurking here (Ann has said before that he's one of her favorite authors). Damasio's mechanistic picture of mental activity, and his attempt to reduce it to physical interactions in the brain, leads to a lot of problems. Ann has posted about that general topic before, and it's led to some lively strings. This strikes me as a continuation of that discussion, applied now to a specific context.

But it's too much to unpack this early in the morning. Perhaps someone else can take a stab.

The Drill SGT said...

The best Lion / Man story I ever saw was this one from 2007:

For one husband and wife, a hike-turned-emergency ended up as an incredible story of survival.

When a mountain lion attacked 70-year-old Jim Hamm, his wife, 65-year-old Nell Hamm, came to his rescue. With a log and a ball-point pen, she warded off the lion and saved her husband's life.

The mountain lion pounced on Hamm during a hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in northern California. With Jim's head literally inside the lion's mouth, Nell began to beat the animal with a log.

"She was beating him the whole time, Jim Hamm told local television station KIEM. "She was worn out from beating him. … Several minutes of real intensity."

All the while, Jim managed to talk to Nell. He instructed her to get a ball-point pen out of his pocket and try to poke the lion in the eye. The pen bent and broke, so Nell went back to using the log.

Eventually, the lion let go, turned to look at her, and walked away. Game wardens have tracked, shot and killed the suspected lion in the attack.

Maguro said...

The key is to not walk around with lamb chops in your pocket.

Roger J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
garage mahal said...

There isn't anything you can do to make a mountain lion "fear" you at all. That's nuts. What can a mountain lion shot dead in a tree "tell" the rest of the population? Who knows why they don't attack more people. Probably because the pets they hunt of people's back porches are much easier targets. Beautiful animals. But nasty nasty.

Roger J. said...

I am an avid grouse hunter--in the cascades we get to hunt all three species of grouse depending on elevation. I was hunting late one year with fresh snow on the ground--completed my hunt and retraced my steps back to where my truck was parked--lo and behold, there were very clearly cougar tracks following my path--I have no idea how long I was stalked but it was quite unnerving--at least I had the luxury of having my remington 870 with me.

A side note: the largest cougar taken in WA state was taken about 25 miles east of Seattle.

traditionalguy said...

The interesting thing is realizing that Wild Animals were always mere food sources for humans until the cartoons and the Disney World TV fantasies of the 1950's created the sense that people owed animals protection and legal rights. That sure is a powerful indoctrination tool.

Original Mike said...

It's likely that these animals are losing their fear of us, since nothing bad happens to them when they encounter us. I don't see there's much to be done about that. I support hunting in general, and I think it helps, but with the very large number of non-hunters trapesing through the woods now, there are practical limits to where and how much hunting can be allowed.

ricpic said...

I never thought of that, Maguro. Good tip.


"Not the slide rule, honey, the ball point! And hurry."

Original Mike said...

There isn't anything you can do to make a mountain lion "fear" you at all. That's nuts. What can a mountain lion shot dead in a tree "tell" the rest of the population?.

By your logic, rabbits would not fear hawks.

Jon said...

Brave Mountain Lion Fends Off Group Of Hikers

EUREKA, CA—A local mountain lion came face-to-face with a group of hikers and made it out alive, sources reported Monday. Wildlife officials are crediting the courageous cougar's quick thinking, catlike reflexes, and 150 pounds of coiled muscle with successfully fending off the human foot travelers.

he mountain lion was reportedly enjoying a quiet afternoon walk around Redwood National Park, on the same path it had taken almost every single day for the past three years, when it heard a rustling sound emanating from the underbrush. Upon investigation, the large feline noticed that a pack of hikers—one adult male, two young children, and an adult female that it instantly recognized as the mother—had crossed into territory that the cat had clearly marked as its own via tree scrapings and urine.

Outnumbered four to one, the cougar, fearing for its life, somehow managed to stay calm. It remained perfectly still in a crouched position and stared directly at the hikers, in the hopes that they would simply pass by. The hikers, however, were undeterred. They began shrieking loudly, clapping their hands, and throwing sticks and rocks at the animal in an apparent attempt to injure it.

"Nothing can prepare a mountain lion for an encounter with four hikers," said park ranger Kenneth Meiggs, noting that it is unusual to find hikers in that particular area of the woods. "In order to defend itself, the cougar had to rely on pure instinct alone."

Armed with nothing more than four-inch claws, razor-sharp teeth, and a 5.4-meter vertical leap, the mountain lion lunged at the adult male hiker. In a defensive measure, it pinned the hiker to the ground, thus disabling the man's primary means of attack. After a brief struggle, the animal was eventually able to lock onto the hiker's skull with its jaw.

"Repeated biting of the skull and face is the textbook way to fend off a human attack," said Mike Kasperski, biologist and author of the book Hikers: Shadows In The Forest.

The mother, however, became increasingly aggressive due to the presence of her young. She reportedly ran toward the mountain lion with a four-inch-wide log and began striking it upon the head. Not knowing what else to do, the feline tore a foot-wide hole in the hiker's stomach, but the enraged female continued to fight, poking the feline in the eye with her finger. The cougar, in a last-ditch effort for survival, whipped its claws across the woman's throat, killing her instantly.

Remarkably, this brave mountain lion is only 4 and a half years old.

"It's amazing what some mountain lions are capable of when faced with the most dire of circumstances," Meiggs said. "To think that those hikers were a mere 20 yards away, and the lion walked away unscathed…. Wow."

The two younger hikers received small lacerations on their legs and chest, while the adult male is being treated for massive head trauma and internal bleeding. The mother, identified as Cyndi Thalls, 38, of Pacoima, CA, was pronounced dead at the scene.

"I think it's safe to say those hikers will think twice before getting into another tussle with this feisty little fellow," Meiggs added with a chuckle.

Following the incident, the mountain lion retreated into the woods, escaping with nothing more than a few minor scratches and a blood-covered snout. At press time, it is resting comfortably on a large rock.

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/brave_mountain_lion_fends_off

Bissage said...

"So many were so invested in the notion that by thinking peaceful thoughts they could will into existence a state of peaceful affairs . . ."

I take it that Professor Reynolds is not one to say his prayers.

WV: "dibleno." Anagram for "I end lob."

Rockport Conservative said...

I live in a wilderness. My Yorkie chased a cougar out of our yard! It was amazing, and of course, I didn't have a camera handy. If someone had been there with a video camera they could have filmed a farce, Yorkie chasing cougar, old lady chasing dog.
It all turned out okay. I'm sure she just surprised the cougar who knew it wasn't his/her territory.

Alex said...

I do not wish to live in a 'Blade Runner' type society where the animals are electronic robots.

Everyone will want a dagget!!

raf said...

"There isn't anything you can do to make a mountain lion "fear" you at all."

It's not about educating individual cougars. It's about the evolution of the population. Evolution works. If cougars are naturally timid around humans, it is because those most aggressive toward humans have been eliminated in the past, creating a bias toward timidity in their offspring. Because of natural variation, there will always be SOME aggressive cougars in the population. The more successfully they reproduce, the more aggressive the total population of cougars will become over time. The way to preserve the species as wary of humans is to kill those which aren't. Allow/encourage self-defense by anyone attacked, instead of imagining that wild animals are natural members of the liberal political class.

Felix Salten has much to answer for.

Paul said...

"By your logic, rabbits would not fear hawks."

Once again Garage Mahal climbs to the summit of Mt. Stupid and claims "king of the hill".

And Ann, your encounter with the cat was nothing like mine. My cat was big, close, and jumped up in the bushes above where I had to go. AND I had to come back later in the dark with no lights (there was a half moon). AND I was alone.

It sounds like you saw a small one from a distance and just walked back to your car.

garage mahal said...

Once again Garage Mahal climbs to the summit of Mt. Stupid and claims "king of the hill".

Care to elaborate why? You think a mountain lion emits a distress beacon for hundreds of miles to other mountain lions of it's impending death by a human? How do you make a mountain lion fear you?

Paul said...

Garage. You're in a hole. Stop digging. Go back and re-read the comments.

The Crack Emcee said...

Damn, Annie, you keep putting stuff out there that's just too good to pass up,...

The Macho Response

Original Mike said...

How do you make a mountain lion fear you?.

What Raf said. And the fact that a bad encounter with a human does not necessarily (or even usually) result in the death of the animal. And mothers that have become wary teach it to their children.

Animals who are hunted are much more skittish than those who are protected. I was able last month to walk up to within 10 feet of wild turkeys in the UW arboretum. I spent 15 minutes that close to them. When I go turkey hunting they skedaddle if they see me on the other side of the field.

How do they become wary? I don't know for sure. But it's a very obvious fact to those of us who get out into the woods that they do.

Stick to the city stuff, garage. You don't know what you're talking about here.

garage mahal said...

Stick to the city stuff, garage. You don't know what you're talking about here.

Mountain lions aren't turkeys or squirrels my man. I suppose you can kill off the overly aggressive ones and hope for the best, and a good test would be taking your chances on a mountain lion that you know has encountered humans before, that you feel has been "scared" sufficiently. I doubt you or raf would ever trust that theory with your life. It don't seem to ever work on bears that are shot in the ass, or harassed into leaving an area, or being captured and relocated.

CarmelaMotto said...

Glenn refers to " the beast in the garden book about the high school track star who was attacked by a lion and about other things around Boulder and elsewhere.http://www.beastinthegarden.com/

Glenn is never alarmist nor behaves like they should be exterminated! More like, when a bear broke through someone's sliding doors in Knoxville, explained that the homeowner left food out for cats that attracted the bear and it was her fault. It wasn't random. Yet if it were some crazy bear looking to break into his house for food - yes, he would kill it, but that's not what happened. The woman left food out and the bear wanted more. Glenn's not a "kill all the bears - thems bears are dangerous" sort.

The locals in the Grizzly Man movie said the same thing - you don't bother with the bears and 99% of the time they won't bother with you. Tim Treadwell BOTHERED them and by making himself familiar to the bears, he endangered bears who may lose their fear of humans because of him. That can get bears killed (and it did).

peter hoh said...

Here's another Beast in the Garden link.

. . . Baron . . . argues that there's nothing natural about the predation of Homo sapiens by cougars. Rather, humans are unwittingly teaching mountain lions to be more of a threat to us.

Original Mike said...

I doubt you or raf would ever trust that theory with your life..

Of course not. It’s not a certainty. It’s a matter of degree. It’s safer (not safe, safer) in the back country where bears are hunted than in the suburbs where they are not (normalizing for bear density). I hike in the Canadian Rockies. The rangers there warn you to be more wary in the National Parks, where the bears are protected, than in the Provincial Parks, where they are hunted. You need to behave intelligently in both places, but you’ve got a little more room for stupidity in the Provincial Parks.

garage mahal said...

You can't trust a bear or mountain lion anywhere. I agree. To the morons that think that can, they deserve to be lunch.

Original Mike said...

Mountain lions aren't turkeys or squirrels my man..

Meaning that turkeys do have that 100-mile distress beacon?

Original Mike said...

To the morons that think that can, they deserve to be lunch..

On that, we agree.

garage mahal said...

Like this idiot? Ever see that documentary?

Original Mike said...

Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Over time, he believed he was trusted by the bears, who would allow him to approach them, and sometimes even touch them..

I suppose they did grow to "trust" him (it is remarkable to be able to approach and touch a wild bear). But what happened was inevitable. It was only a matter of time.

c w swanson said...

Here in No Cal several years ago a female jogger on a trail in the foothills was ambushed from behind and killed by a lion. The lion had young, and was otherwise healthy, so the thought was that the jogger went by while the lion was watching from higher up on the hill, and it simply did what it would ordinarily do with a deer. They are nothing more than wild predators, and you cannot say there is little danger to having them around, especially in a state like Calif. where they have not been hunted for years.

traditionalguy said...

This whole fear man lesson taught by using violence towards lions sounds much the same as good juriprudence teachings about men and the law. The law's enforcement on a regular basis is the essence of the law's effectiveness in restraing bad behavior. Once no one fears getting attacked by armed men (Police Officers or citizens with guns)when violating laws, then all restraints come off and lawless behavior becomes the norm. And that is just among men and women. Among already programed to attack predators the lack of restraints would become fierce. And then there are the special cases of Red Headed women like Kathy Griffin.

CarmelaMotto said...

Timothy Treadwell was an an addict and alcoholic who traded that for "saving bears" (as he put it - no proof what he did improved the bear population or quality of life). In the movie, he would humanize the bears, and cry when a baby bear was eaten by other bears, "Why would they do that?" Because they are BEARS! He treated them like domestic dogs. He was in such a remote area, the bears did not have much contact with humans so when food was plentiful they could ignore him; when it ran out, they ate him. In the movie it was suggested it wasn't the "regular" bears, but some "mean" outsider bears. His bears would never eat him Ridiculous.

raf said...

If you read about grizzly behavior in earlier centuries, for example, the Lewis & Clark journals, you find no fear of humans and very aggressive behavior. Today, bears in Yellowstone are more likely to retreat from a human siting at a distance. Something changed. Not all at once.

Once you are too close, other behaviors get triggered. Those who believe in the benevolence of wild animals will likely/eventually get their own behavior modified if they try to act on that belief.

Or domestic animals, come to that. Repeated close encounters with farm animals can reconcile you to carnivorous habits.

nomiusen: this just has to have a significant hidden meaning relevant to this post.

Bruce Hayden said...

Here in No Cal several years ago a female jogger on a trail in the foothills was ambushed from behind and killed by a lion. The lion had young, and was otherwise healthy, so the thought was that the jogger went by while the lion was watching from higher up on the hill, and it simply did what it would ordinarily do with a deer. They are nothing more than wild predators, and you cannot say there is little danger to having them around, especially in a state like Calif. where they have not been hunted for years.

Keep in mind the differences between different species. Brown bears have been at the top of the food chain so long that nothing really scares them. Black bears not as much.

But this death brings to mind a similar one near Idaho Springs, CO, a couple of decades ago, when I lived fairly close to that (and had an infant). And some guy got taken in Glacier a year or two before, also moving fairly quickly. My understanding is that running by triggers the attack mode in cats, since the prey is obviously running away. So, don't jog or run in mountain lion country.

And the dog above that chased a cat off - don't expect that to work over night very well. I lived in a neighborhood that had a cat problem, and it was taking 50 pound dogs that lived alone (no other dogs close), but was hunted down after it took a 70 lb dog that it couldn't pick up, and so had to drag back to its lair. Coming in that close to people is a death warrant for cats, and often bears (for good reason). But when houses had two or more dogs, they seemed to be able to protect each other - all the dogs taken were not living with other dogs.

JAL said...

Y'all -- ABC has an "Outsiders" story on right now (Tuesday night 10 PM easternabout humans embedding with lions.

A guy is yelling at a lion "Cut it out now!!!" and waving a big stick as it charges him. I think he is supposed to be teaching them not to attack humans but to be naturally cuatious (this bunch was overly aggressive)?

Quite on topic.

kcom said...

I've always found this picture amusing. You see the black bear up the tree but it's not until you look closer that you see the reason. A tabby cat didn't like the bear in his yard and wasn't going to stand for it.

Link

Michael McNeil said...

Wow! A prominent quote in a posting by the great Althouse — I'm honored! (Bows) Now to business….

Here in No Cal several years ago a female jogger on a trail in the foothills was ambushed from behind and killed by a lion.

How about a reference on that? According to that same Calif. Fish and Game page I've pointed to several times now, no woman has been killed by a cougar in California for fifteen years — and that was in San Diego County.

Now me, I'm all in favor of lions keeping a healthy fear of humans; while pace Garage's silly assertions, it's quite easy to inspire that: simply hunt them, and (inevitably) don't succeed in killing every one hunted, and the survivors will likely never go near a human again. Moreover, the survivors that are female will teach their cubs never ever to approach humans.

Moreover, to refute another of Garage's supposed points, if pumas really only went after easy prey, such as pets in people's yards, surely they would have plucked a few children from people's yards in the many suburbs they roam near. Yet only six of those sixteen attacks over the last almost 120 years in California were on kids — with none at all occurring since 1993, none fatal on kids for a hundred years (which death was due to rabies), and none where the attack itself killed the child since the very first entry in that list — from 1890!

Michael McNeil said...

From what I understand, you should always stand upright if you spot a mountain lion, do not crouch down. Mountain lions do not recognize upright things as “prey” and seldom will attack.

Rather than it being “upright things,” I'd suggest that standing up tall makes you seem bigger and thus more formidable.

Beyond that, the best advice on what (not) do in an encounter with a lion, in my view, is never ever run from a lion. That's way too much temptation for it to pounce in pursuit, like a cat chasing a mouse.

John Lynch said...

The reason there were so few attacks from animals in the last 120 years is that in the centuries before that we shot most of them.

The survivors were few and terrified.

If you look at a table of animal attacks over the years, there's an upward trend starting about 20 years ago.

It's not the animals were never dangerous, it's that we scared them into hiding from us. If you read about pioneers and colonists, the wildlife they encountered was much more aggressive than it is now.

If we keep allowing animals to lose their fear of people they will learn the wrong thing. It isn't a really big problem, likely to affect a dozen people a year, but it is an issue. That doesn't mean we should exterminate all predators, but we should allow legal hunting and trapping. That seems to work, and is compatible with species survival.

John Lynch said...

I seem to remember a female jogger getting eaten in California. Let me check.

Yeah, here it is, in 1994.

link

Again, notice the upward trend starting about 20 years ago.