Today is the World Wildlife Day! This day officially started after a United Nations General Assembly proclamation in 2014 and March 3rd was chosen because this was the day that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora was signed on this day in 1973. The day celebrates wildlife all around the world and many organizations use it as a way to educate folks about different wildlife (their lives, environment, and impact/relationship with humans) and the threats they may face.
This year’s focus is on big cats and while some of the most widely known predators are big cats (think lions, tigers), there are so many threats that have resulted in a decline in many big cat populations. Big cats of all kinds are found in many parts of the world though, including here in the Pacific Northwest! While we don’t have the more well-known big cats living in the wild here, there are cougars!
Cougars (puma concolor) are the largest cats in the Pacific Northwest and are actually native to the area! These big cats are found in many parts of North America and have also been called mountain lions, pumas, panthers and catamount. Cougars can be reddish-brown, orange-brown, or even grey in color and adult males typically weigh about 140 pounds. They can get to be 8 feet in length (including their tail) and are often roughly 3-4 feet tall.
These big cats are solitary animals, prefer to not be seen by people, and are often most active at dawn and dusk. Their retractable claws and strong jaws allow for them to attack prey and any danger. Cougars will eat larger mammals like deer and will hide any large carcasses to eat later. They’ve also been known to eat other animals like mice, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and beavers.
Cougar attacks on humans have been rare, with roughly 110 reported attacks in the last 100 years (according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife). However, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been other interactions between us and them over time. More than anything, cougars pose a threat to some farm animals and there are stories of farmers in the Pacific Northwest losing sheep and other animals to cougar attacks.
Odds are that most people reading this won’t come across a cougar, especially if you live in an urban area. But in the off chance you do come across a cougar, there are some very important things to do:
- Stop and don’t run, as a cougar will instinctively chase.
- Make sure to never turn your back or try to hide.
- Pick up any small children.
- Try to appear larger than the cat. The best way to get out the situation is to appear as a potential danger/predator rather than prey.
And if you do live in cougar country, the Department of Fish and Wildlife from both Washington and Oregon have some recommendations around protecting you and your home. Two important recommendations are to always make sure to keep an eye on small children and keep any pet on leash and inside during dawn and dusk!
Like all big cats, there are many threats that cougars face. However, cougars are at the ‘least concern’ conversation level but development and fatal interactions with people both impact the population. Both Oregon and Washington heavily regulate cougar hunting to make sure that the big cat population doesn’t disappear in the states. But there are cougars, like many other big cats around the world, that are killed because they killed some livestock.
Other threats to big cats around the world include:
- Bike cables turned into deadly snare traps. This happens in parts of Asia and these traps account for killing more big cats than guns on the Asian continent.
- Poaching has also impacted many big cat populations, with many African countries trying to take on poachers of all kinds. One of the most famous stories (at least here in the United States) of this issue was when a Minnesota dentist shot and killed Cecil the Lion.
- The exotic pet trade has also caused some big cats to be captured and kept as pets. There are many big cats with relatively small wild populations and taking even just one cat out of the wild can have an impact.
- Development and habitat loss impact big cats and many other animals all over the world.
Learning to coexist with all kinds of wildlife is always going to be something that humans as a whole need to work on, especially as cities grow and protected land shrinks. On this year’s World Wildlife Day, I really encourage you to learn more about the wildlife in your area, especially any big cats, and how to be the best neighbor to all kinds of wildlife.