Where the lion sleeps tonight

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You have probably heard about the cougar which was just killed in Connecticut but which is thought to have wandered there from the Dakotas. Well, I have a couple of stories to bookend that story. One of them has to do with the lion in this photograph, and the other with something I saw in the woods. This photograph was taken by me not too far from Connecticut and it was shot with a 50 mm lens. The only thing between me and this cat was his breath.

No, the lion was not running around free. It was part of a travelling group of cats. The lion you see here may be familiar to you because he’s done a number of TV commercials and even did a shoot or two as the MGM lion. You may know him better as a Dryfus lion. I was photographing him, and his friend who is a Bengal Tiger, while they munched on cattle bones, as part of an experiment in bone taphonomy. The owner of these cats also had a tame mountain lion.

This experiment was carried out at the King Richard’s Faire in Carver, MA, where the cat keeper ran a show where you could get yourself photographed with the cats. I’ve talked about this before. The day before I shot this picture, the local police had come by to complain that his cougar had been seen by local residents wandering around in the nearby woods. Several individuals had seen the couger. However, the tame cougar was never out of its enclosure. What seems to have happened is that a local cougar had picked up the scent of the captive animal and was curious enough to allow itself to be spotted. This was in the 1980s.

The other event took place in the woods not too far from this as the cougar wanders (maybe 45 miles away?). I was doing archaeological survey and found a cave (more a rockshelter than a proper cave, but something you need to crawl into) which showed lair wear indicating that animals had squeezed in and out of the small entrance way for a very long period of time; These were animals the size of a full grown dog. I assume the cave was used by bears more than anything else, but the whisker I found there looked to me a lot more like a cat’s than a bear’s or a dog’s, and the feces found nearby were cat feces from a very large animal. I can’t say with any certainty that I had found a cougar lair. The biological materials could have been of a bobcat, I suppose. But, if cougars were common in the area I would not have questioned that provisional identification.

Again, that was in the 1980s.

Around the same time, coincidentally, there was that event in Nairobi of interest, related to leopards. Some’s pet leopard had gotten out and the authorities were called. A few dozen leopard traps were set up around the neighborhood. A couple of leopards were caught right away. Wild leopards, which no one expected.

A cougar lived a short distance from the Twin Cities airport for several years, known of by the National Park Service rangers who covered the Minnesota River park down in the valley just off the highway. No one else knew about the cat. Then one day the cat started watching/stalking hikers, and started wandering out of the park. It was seen at a local gas station one morning. The rangers, knowing exactly where she hung out and worried that she was going to start eating people, found her and put her down.

And the female cougar with subs that rangers were following but secretly, until she was spotted by a member of the public, in Vermont a few years back.

And so on.

Cats are like that.

Comments

  1. #1 Hank Fox
    July 28, 2011

    That Vermont cougar with subs, I’d love to see that one. Is that the aquatic subspecies?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 28, 2011

    They were subroutines.

  3. #3 richardrob
    July 28, 2011

    Shall I take as the moral of the story that we all live closer to large cats than most people would be comfortable knowing?

  4. #4 M
    July 28, 2011

    Growing up right next to a protected wilderness in Oregon, I had some run ins with cougars. Not much to report. They really are in some senses huge cats. The one I remember most was sitting in the middle of the trail when we came over a small rise. I stood straight up, tried to make myself look very big, just like I had been taught. It sat there for a few minutes sniffing, then it got up and walked away. It never stalked us, it never attacked.
    For the most part, the cougar that was “stalking” hikers was probably curious, as most cats are.

    What is happening in Oregon now is that urbanites from other areas in the country are moving to more rural communities in and along the smaller rivers. They put there yards right up to the allowable distance from the wilderness boundary. Then they put their little toy whatsit dog in the back yard and they are shocked when a cougar kills and eats fluffy. Mostly because I have never met a toy anything that had the smarts to not try and take on any other animal three times its size.

    By the way the worst experience I had was getting dangerously close to a bear (on accident). Not attacked, but scared out of my mind.

    The moral of the story is that wild animals exist and as we spread out they will adapt to the new surroundings quicker than we will adapt to their existence.

  5. #5 Doug Alder
    July 28, 2011

    Out my way (South Central BC) there are lots of cougars and bears, both black and grizzly. We find bear scat in our yard or our neighbours yards every year.

  6. #6 Helen
    July 29, 2011

    A lot of people here in Western Mass (right above CT and below VT) claim to have seen them.

  7. #7 aeon
    July 29, 2011

    I’d give a lot to see a cougar in the wild. These elegant cats are one of the reasons I’d like to visit the Americas one day. There are not many other reasons which would stand to scrutinity… ;)

  8. #8 rob
    July 29, 2011

    never seen a cougar in MN. have seen one wolf. and plenty of bears. one came tooling up within about 10 feet of me before i noticed. we both looked startled. i tell you, bears *do* shit in the woods.

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