Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Where Big Cats Have No Mates

A photo an Ozark reader sent me from his trail camera.

         A few months ago, a mountain lion was killed on a Missouri highway, one of several killed in the state in the past few years.  Shortly afterward a media specialist for the state conservation department said that those cougars were very shy and of no real threat to people, perhaps because there are so few of them.  

         He has no idea how many people have been killed by mountain lions in the west.  I don’t know if there has ever been an attack in Missouri or Arkansas, but just a couple of years ago an elderly man in the Ozarks died from something which attacked him and mauled him pretty bad. He never could tell anyone what it was and they never knew exactly what had attacked him.  They have speculated that it was dogs.

         I can’t give you an exact number of mountain lion attacks in the west resulting in deaths over the past century but in the past few years, but it has been reported that four women killed by lions in Colorado and California were out walking in remote mountain areas while during active menstrual periods. 

         Active outdoor and country-women need to have an awareness of that. It may be unpleasant to talk about, but it is necessary to relate that theory to young women who hike and camp in the national forests or national parks of the Midwest at least. 

         About twenty years ago I was writing a weekly outdoor column for the Springfield News Leader newspaper.  One week I wrote a column about seeing cougars in the Ozarks of Missouri and North Arkansas, and about running a trap-line with my grandfather when we tracked a big cat in the snow on the Big Piney at the edge of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  We found where one had crept out onto a high rock outcropping and jumped down onto the back of a deer below.
         There was some hair and blood on the trail but the deer had escaped.  The cougar had chased it in long bounds for only 40 or 50 yards, and then began to walk before he crossed the river.  I was about 13 and it was extremely exciting to see those tracks, likely made less than a full day before. My grandfather showed me how the claws showed plainly as the cat pounced and chased the deer, but as he slowed to a walk, the claws were retracted and the typical cat-track showed no claw marks, as canine tracks do.

         At that time the Conservation Department had determined, in their infinite wisdom, that there were no mountain lions in the state whatsoever and that was the final word in the matter.  They saw my article on where and when I had seen the big cats in the past twenty years as an attempt to erode their authority.  So one of their media specialists, a fellow by name of Jim Lowe, wrote a letter to the newspaper making fun of me as one of those story tellers who couldn’t be believed, stating that our state had no mountain lions.
It was a fairly insulting letter and the newspaper, newly purchased by the Gannet Company and re-staffed by eastern liberals, ate it up.  Not long afterward a Texas county deer hunter found a freshly killed doe draped across his board tree-stand, and it was obviously killed and partly eaten by a cougar. 

         Within a few weeks another mountain lion killed was confirmed and some DNA testing showed that there were mountain lions in Missouri after all.  Son of a gun… the Missouri Department of Conservation officially changed their policy, which meant they would stop laughing at folks who called telling them they had seen one.

         The media specialist who had tried to discredit me did not see fit to apologize, and the newspaper wouldn’t let me write an “I told you so” column.  Today the state’s experts insist that any mountain lions we might see are rare males which may travel in great forays and that they are absolutely sure there are no breeding big cats in the state. DNA testing, they said, proved that a cougar killed on the highway was from western Nebraska. They also say that mountain lion kittens are not being produced in the Ozarks, because females do not live here with those wandering males, and you have their expert opinion to back that up. 

Mt lion tracks from Fairfield boat ramp on Truman lake
         I think that indeed a few cougar breedings have occurred in the Arkansas mountains and in the large remote areas of Ozark forests in southern Missouri.  I know there are mountain lions in that vast undeveloped 112-thousand acre tract of Corps land around Truman Lake. About two years ago at the Fairfield boat-launching area and parking lot, someone had been dumping the carcasses of catfish for several months, and a cougar had found it to be a great place to find easy food.  I photographed a distinct clear track in deep mud, and the steps between the tracks were about two feet apart.  I am sending the photo to all newspapers that use this column.

         I can’t tell you how many mountain lions are in Missouri, nor can I say if all of them are males and none are females.  If you know anything about nature, does that make sense to you?  

         Some of my readers have been upset about letters to newspapers by the “Executive” director of the state’s Conservation Federation who is really upset about what I have written about their ‘share your harvest’ program. I feel it puts the meat of chronic wasting diseased deer in the hands of poor people.
         I have written a great deal about what I have learned about the disease, and it is my opinion, after talking to doctors and folks who feel they lost loved ones, that this ‘prion-spread’ disease called by many names, has killed quite a number of people.
         In a future column I will relate to you information I received directly from doctors.  But in the meantime, I will not get too upset about what that ‘executive’ has to say and neither should anyone else.  It should be that way… two sides to an issue, with readers learning from each and comparing what is said. 
         That Conservation Federation ‘executive’ doesn’t like me much. He wants to be an outdoor writer and do what I have done since before he was born.  He would love to have grown up in the woods and on the river as I did, and have my educational background in wildlife management. And he would love to be successful enough as a writer to write for those 50 newspapers that use my column, and publish a successful outdoor magazine and write ten books on the outdoors as I have.  I hope he achieves success and actually does make a difference in what we refer to in this day and time as ‘conservation’, the wise use of our natural resources.

         But what he doesn’t know about me is that the Conservation Federation’s director from long ago offered me a job with their organization and I turned it down.  In years after that, I won two awards from that Conservation group as “Conservation Communicator of the Year”.  Kind of funny isn’t it.  Today’s “executive director” casts aspersions against what I write, and that writing won awards from his organization!

  To inquire about my magazine or books, call 417-777-5227.  Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo.  65613 or email me at lightninridge47@gmail.com

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