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Sunday, 19 September 2010

Memorial for Majesty


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Puma concolor, Belgrade Zoo: photo by Bas Lammers, 2009

Two o'clock in the morning on the Avenue: desolation. Somebody sees a big cat. A ninety-pound female cougar, or mountain lion, or puma -- Puma concolor. Police are called. The animal flees. It is pursued, shot with rifles, then again with a shotgun, and killed, two blocks away, in a backyard.

Puma concolor is a majestic and solitary creature. What this particular animal was doing on the same block as one of the most famous high-end eateries in the world is anybody's guess. Likewise unknown is whether her return that night was awaited by her cubs. The sole certainty here is that she never made it back up into the hills whence she had come.

It's a human world, humans own it and make the rules. In this case, though in fact there was no evidence that the hunted-down animal had intended to harm anyone, it was "public safety" that provided the rationale for the killing.

The remaining population of Puma concolor in California is a few thousand, and shrinking.

As I limp past the bedraggled remnants of the makeshift memorial erected on the spot where the mountain lion was first sighted, I say a little prayer to the big-cat gods, and beg their forgiveness.

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Puma concolor, Belgrade Zoo: photo by Bas Lammers, 2009

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Puma concolor, sleeping: photo by Trisha M. Shears, 2007

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Cougar (Puma concolor), sitting, Sedona, Arizona: photo by AskJoanne, 2007

Street memorial at location on Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, where a 90-pound female Mountain Lion (Puma concolor) was sighted at 2:13 a.m., August 31, 2010. Two blocks away and a little over hour later the animal was shot twice with rifles, then again, fatally, with a shotgun, by police, in a residential backyard
: photo by John Bennett, 2010


Elmo St. Rose said...

it's great to know that a species
has made a come back...the cougar
are migrating east as well as to
Berkeley...looking for food places they are not
hunted and are not expected to be

~otto~ said...

Terribly sad.

TC said...

Well, this unfortunate event definitely aborted the "comeback", locally.

The cat was on the run throughout the episode. The first assault with rifles left her badly wounded, but she continued to try to flee. That's when the shotgun came into play. Of course, to protect a block noted for fine dining, ammo is no object.

The department of Fish & Game is said to have a practice of "resolving" such "situations" with stun guns that dope up the animal but don't kill it.

But of course they were a hundred miles away in Sacramento at the time.

Puma concolor is an endangered creature. Ranchers who want to kill mountain lions can do so with a depredation permit. From 2005 to 2008 there were 301 mountain lion kills in California on depredation permits.

In the same period there were 23 mountain lion kills by law enforcement agencies, for "public safety".

There are occasionally attacks of mountain lion hysteria in the suburban foothils. Some years ago a woman jogging saw a mountain lion and ...

It would be surprising if in twenty or thirty years there were any of these magnificent animals left in these parts. The odds aren't great. However it's a fairly safe bet the humans will still be around.

Anonymous said...

Reading this hit us very hard here since, as I believe I commented previously, something very similar happened to us in our own yard several years ago when a neighbor, whose poorly trained dog treed a mother black bear and two cubs behind our house, called the police to eliminate the bear who was “menacing” his dog.

I was away on business at the time, but my wife and daughter were made to witness the event while trying to prevent it. The police shot and killed the mother bear, effectively orphaning the cubs (who escaped). The police and our neighbor were all horribly culpable and the New York State Department of Environmental Control, who responded slowly and after the fact, was feckless.

Because we lived in a little village, rather than a city (and one buried in the forest where black bear occurrences are fairly common), we were able to make a ruckus, enlist neighbors' help and change things, so that I very much doubt anything like this will happen ever again. (In fact, one very unpleasant man tried to harm a bear after this and was prosecuted as severely as possible under local law.)

The photographs are incredibly beautiful. In Tuxedo Park, Caroline, Jane and I find ourselves saying prayers for animals constantly. A few years ago, while buying a humane animal trap at a local hardware store in neighboring village so that we could capture a feral cat who we’d been feeding and bring her to the vet, the young man behind the counter asked whether we would also like to buy some anti-freeze to kill the animal once we’d captured it?

Every day lately the World Wildlife Fund has been calling for money to save the big cats in other countries. What the hell is going on in our country?

Elmo St. Rose said...

In my travels I met a man in Kansas
who had not much to show for himself except his collection of
arrowheads/and a mounted cougar, he
had hunted illegally in Colorado...
so the machismo blood lust as TC
points out is still there.

In my state there have been several
cougar sightings, and some captured
on game cameras but Fish and Game
won't admit they're here because
then they would have to do a count
which I guess would be a great

What I meant by the species making a
come back is that in areas where
they were once hunted to extinction
they are hunting
pressure, more food source

Outdoor Life is a magazine for
people who hunt and fish...not
long ago there was an article about
cougars being spotted in Michigan.
Good waiting room reading.

Personally if I were a cougar
I'd live in New Jersey,lots of deer,
fewer hunters.

Walking in a wilderness area in
Oregon came within 15 feet of a
cougar who quietly walked away.

On the cougar sloppily
killed on Shattuck...I remember
a phrase from Maimonides..."When
a wild beast enters a human abode
it is a visitation" to paraphrase.
It is a vivid example of when the
wild or the unexplainable makes a
sudden appearance among the metaphysically unprepared.

TC said...


I understood what you meant.

"When a wild beast enters a human abode it is a visitation..."

"...a vivid example of when the
wild or the unexplainable makes a
sudden appearance among the metaphysically unprepared."

Words of true wise application and large implication.

This time of year, the deer, their habitat area like that of the mountain lion continually shrinking due to human development, come down out of the dry hills in search of a drink (their "depredations" upon people's rosebushes are generally lamented)... and it's to be supposed that the doomed mountain lion came down in search of deer.

The fact that a dense urban zone is not a safe place for wild animals to be coming into... well, it's probably not lost on the wild animals. Nor for that matter on some of the tame ones.

(From my somewhat shrunken viewpoint, by the way, you appear to dwell in the Garden of Eden, there where you are, relative to this place... at least as far as cougar-habitability goes... the odd Nimrod notwithstanding...)