Mother of Toddler Attacked by Cougar Agrees That Development is Root of Conflicts with Big Cats

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Mother of Toddler Attacked by Cougar Agrees That Development is Root of Conflicts with Big Cats

From Brian Vincent, BigWildlife.org

Studies Show Urban Sprawl Displacing Cougars, Increasing Encounters

Maureen Lee, the mother of a the three year old girl who was attacked by a cougar in Squamish, British Columbia, agrees that rampant development is at the root of increased encounters with cougars (also known as mountain lions). Lee, who courageously pulled her daughter, Maya Espinosa, away from a cougar, joined the wildlife advocacy group, Big Wildlife, in calling for a halt to unchecked urban sprawl in the once sleepy town. In a statement yesterday, the wildlife organization said the recent spike in cougar encounters was directly related to human encroachment into cougar territory. Cougar experts support Lee's and Big Wildlife's claims.

"Once officials have finished with the DNA testing I would like the cougar to be brought back home and buried in the forest where he belongs. I believe the recent incidents with cougars are a sign we are developing the area too rapidly for the cougars to adapt to their loss of territory. We need to respect cougars by respecting their home," said Lee.

Big Wildlife, an international wildlife organization with an office in Squamish, BC cited a number of studies that found urban sprawl was destroying critical cougar habitat and displacing cougars and their prey base, forcing the animals to seek out food in areas they might otherwise avoid. Those studies found:

"Sprawling suburbs and outdoor recreation activities increasingly bring people into cougar habitat, both degrading these areas and heightening the chances for cougar-human encounters, which can result in harm to humans or the eventual destruction of cougars. Many suburban activities, like watering lawns or leaving pet food outdoors, attract deer or cougars and ultimately habituate cougars to human presence, increasing the risk that these typically reclusive cats will come into contact with people. Furthermore, while cougars have managed to fare well on the outskirts of many metropolitan areas, sprawl-type development threatens to fragment and destroy the large expanses of habitat that cougars require to survive. New subdivisions and roads limit cougars’ ability to disperse, threatening to isolate individual populations and perhaps lead to inbreeding or eventual extirpation." Source: National Wildlife Federation cougar fact sheet

"Experts on mountain lion attacks have attributed the increase to the rapid growth and expansion of human populations and loss of mountain lion habitat across the West, which has brought more people into proximity with mountain lions, as well as to an increase in mountain lion populations in some areas due to the growth and spread of deer populations (CMGWG 2005, Quigley and Herrero 2005). Indeed, in recent years several attacks have occurred in some of the most densely populated counties of the West where there is significant development and recreation in mountain lion habitat, including California’s Orange (3,606 people/mi˛) and San Diego (670 people/mi˛) Counties and Colorado’s Boulder County (392 people/mi˛). It is worth noting that the state of Wyoming (5.09 people/mi˛), which has the lowest human population density of any western U.S. state except Alaska, had no confirmed attacks until 2006." Source: Living with Lions, by Chris Papouchis, Mountain Lion Foundation

"Contrary to accepted belief, our findings suggest that cougars in the Pacific Northwest are currently declining. Increased conflicts between cougars and humans in this area could be the result of the 1) very young age structure of the population caused by heavy hunting, 2) increased human intrusion into cougar habitat, 3) low level of social acceptance of cougars in the area, or 4) habituation of cougars to humans." Source: Cougar Population Dynamics and Viability in the Pacific Northwest

"Cougars themselves present special wildlife management challenges , especially in areas of human encroachment. Cougars require large home ranges for survival– males dominate areas up to 100 square miles and females roam areas 30 to 50 square miles. Newly independent juvenile cats may turn up in residential areas as they search for vacant space to establish a home range." Source: Students, wildlife experts team up for high-tech cougar study

Big Wildlife said new housing projects, a Home Depot and Wall Mart, and other sprawling developments have sprung up in areas critical to wildlife, including resident cougars. The wildlife advocates said a proposed housing subdivision in the Valley Cliff neighborhood of Squamish was a recipe for disaster for cougars. The development would be pushed directly into known cougar territory, further stressing resident cats and other wildlife.

Lee doesn't blame the cougar for potentially preying on Maya. She said the cougar was being pushed to the limit as the animal tried to cope with losing habitat to development.

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