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Cougars that enter towns often end up in trees. They take refuge in trees because they are afraid, not because they hope to pounce on a passerby. Often, if everyone pulls back and gives the cat some space, it will descend and return to the wilder environment from whence it came. Photo by John Laundré.

Reports of cougars being shot when they wander into more urban environments often stirs the blood. The decision to shoot or not to shoot has serious consequences for the cougar and its family.

The more we learn about cougars, the more we come to know that they do not always stay in the woods.  They wander, sometimes into places we don’t think they should be. Fact is, cougars do move through urban areas, and unfortunately some of them get caught doing so.  Does such a cat pose a threat?  It could, but how much of a threat?  Scared cat syndrome—a cornered frightened cat is more likely to be a possible threat.  When these cats are left alone, they leave without incident. In most cases the cougar does not intend to threaten us.  It is not always sick, or injured, or looking for its next meal.  Sometimes it is just moving on, investigating, or looking for a safe haven. These cats are often young animals, forced out of their birth places or orphaned by human activities disturbing their habitat.  Overhunting of the cougars’ core populations is one of these activities, causing animals to become orphaned and fend for themselves at an earlier age then they naturally would have, because the more mature, established cougars, that give the population a degree of stability and social order have been taken out.

If we find a cougar in our midst, we do not have to be afraid.  Understanding them will help us to have more confidence in these situations. Cougars are never taught to hunt us.  They are taught to hunt deer and smaller animals.  They did not evolve to live in urban areas. If we take these things away—their wild habitat and their preferred prey—what choice have we given them? We need to take responsibility for the environment we have created.


—Carmel Severson



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