Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Puma or Mountain Lion, Puma concolor (shown here staring hungrily at a baby carriage). These are some of the last great hunters of North America and one of the most adaptable, living in a wide variety of habitats including mountains, deserts, swamps, brush, grasslands and forests. They generally stay away from humans but, as our recreational activities and our urban sprawl push us farther into the brushlands, there are more encounters, sometimes with fatal results. This was true after some of the huge fires that swept through Southern California, where an injured or starving puma may occasionally take to going after pets and sometimes even humans. In one case, a Puma, possibly injured/starved by the fires, had staked out a biking trail and had killed/eaten a jogger and was finally noticed when as it attempted to drag a biker, screaming, into the bushes by the head. It is easy to forget that such a beautiful creature is really still a very dangerous wild animal, even though a cage separates us. It is also easy to forget that our wild areas are shared with the creatures that have been there for thousands of years before us.
This particular puma perked up dramatically and followed a baby stroller that it eyed hungrily. The father, thinking it was funny, ran the stroller back and forth a few times as the cat followed, devouring his child with its eyes. He thought it was funny. The tottler was absolutely not amused. At least some of us spectators were horrified at both the reaction of the cat (it is a wild animal after all...) but more so at the Dad for terrifying his child in that manner. It is, at minimum, a reminder to maintain a healthy respect for wild animals; keep your children and pets close if you live or hike out in the brush.
A further point of interest: the cat largely ignored the adults. However, having the father there with the child and the child in a stroller clearly did not create any distinction or fear in this particular mountain lion. This lion clearly was not afraid of humans and also clearly recognized/differentiated an infant creature in the stroller (as opposed to considering the stroller as part of the child). You might expect this level of familiarity from a puma in a zoo. However, this highlights the danger in feeding wild animals (birds excepted), particularly carnivores, and the particular hazard in desensitizing them to human presence.