By Nicole Rivard
A video of a Utah hiker being confronted by a mother cougar has been swirling around the internet, and with it of course misleading headlines such as “Utah hiker stalked by a cougar for 6 minutes, miraculously lived.”
Thankfully, some news outlets like Forbes reached out to scientists studying cougars to set the record straight.
Mark Elbroch, puma program director for wild cat conservation organization Panthera, told Forbes the cougar in the video was not hunting or stalking the hiker. “The cat was stressed and was trying to escort the hiker away from her babies,” he said.
Cougars display much bluff and bluster, he added. Those charges are to make the hiker scared, that’s the cat’s game.
Imogene Cancellare, a researcher at the Rare and Elusive Species Lab at the University of Delaware, told Forbes “bluff charges” are meant to eliminate a threat with aggression, not altercation. She said the cat was not trying to physically engage with hiker Kyle Burgess.
David Stoner, a cougar researcher at Utah State University, pointed out that the mother looked skinny, which makes him think she was still nursing. That would mean her kittens are very young and vulnerable, which might have made her more protective.
If the cougar wanted to attack, she would have, said another ecologist. She stayed away because she was scared too.
All of this begs the question, why are humans such hypocrites? They tout their own fatherly and motherly instincts to protect their children, however when a wild animal does the same he or she is vilified and assumed dangerous and deadly.
Actually, that assumption is what is deadly—to the animal that is.
For example, in Connecticut recently a black bear was shot for protecting her cubs. According to the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a 26-year-old man’s dog ran toward a bear and her cubs who were foraging in the woods near his property line. The dog started barking and the mother bear treed her two cubs. Then the bear stood her ground and started making loud noises, believing her cubs were threatened.
Her heroic, good parenting resulted in the man shooting her dead. The cubs survived and the dog was not hurt. At least the man got arrested for his unfortunate, unnecessary overreaction.
Also, in a rural northwestern area of Connecticut a few years ago CT DEEP killed a male swan because a couple kayaking on the pond reported to the agency that he was acting aggressively, coming toward them, flapping his wings and hissing. The couple also reported how the swan that day approached two younger people in a canoe, which ultimately capsized, spilling the canoeists.
What humans should understand is it was springtime and the swan was just protecting his nesting site, which human animals need to respect and keep their distance from.
DEEP’s action upset a lot of people, including a local state representative so the agency began taking steps to better inform the public about nesting sites so people will avoid contact with the birds.
Meanwhile, just days after the mother cougar made headlines, National Geographic did a story on an unusual connection that formed between a wildlife photographer and a bobcat family in Texas. Photographer Karine Aigner actually rearranged her schedule so she could spend the summer photographing the mother and her three kittens. She spent hours watching them sleep, drink, play and groom.
She told the magazine, “Momcat let me into her universe. She allowed me to see what it is to be a bobcat; and what it takes to be a single mom of three. We both took refuge in each other’s worlds. I had no intention other than being present, and she seemed to know that.”
She continued,” There is an unspoken connection between living creatures. They teach us so much, if we just allow ourselves to slow down, and pay attention.”
I couldn’t agree more.
It was not a miracle that the hiker lived. His life was never in danger. Mama cougar was just trying to show him the door.