July 9, 2012

Misdeed or Misjudged

By Kevin VanGorden, Program Intern
Photos by Kevin VanGorden

Often, the first time we hear about a carnivore, it’s due to some misdeed or misinterpreted action that has led us to believe that these creatures are truly terrifying. Little Red Riding Hood is a prime example of a story we all hear when we are children, a classic story condemning a carnivore, in this case a wolf, as something to truly be frightened of. Not All carnivores are portrayed as man eaters, for instance the bobcat and fox are often thought of as a vexation for those rearing livestock, particularly small mammals and birds.

One animal in particular comes to mind when I think of misjudged animals here at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center; the mountain lion. The mountain lion as we know it here in New England, also called the cougar and nearly 40 other names, has paid a heavy price for its bad reputation. In New Hampshire the mountain lion is considered an extirpated species, meaning that it is locally extinct. Many reports of mountain lion sightings do float in to New Hampshire Fish & Game, although many of these sightings cannot be confirmed, it is believed that these mountain lions are simply passing through the state and are not long term residents.

 Mountain lions are very athletic, capable of leaping 15 feet high and as far as 30 feet from a standstill. Their slender muscular bodies allow them to move at speeds up to 35 mph for short periods of time. Weighing in between 100 and 180lbs and reaching lengths of 5.5-8 feet long, it is hard to imagine that creatures of this size are as silent and stealthy as they are. Mountain lions use their supreme stealth to stalk and hunt their prey, primarily deer, elk, and moose, although they have been known to take smaller mammals such as coyotes and raccoons.

Mountain lions, like most wild animals, normally avoid humans, cities and towns. Habitat destruction and deforestation have limited the mountain lion’s range and forced some contact between humans and mountain lions. Ranch hands and farmers fearing for their livestock have actively hunted and killed mountain lions. Many stories of hikers and outdoorsmen being stalked in the mountains have surfaced causing widespread panic and alarm throughout the United States. Cast as a villain in many classic westerns and TV shows, the mountain lion has had a hard public opinion to battle.

With its incredible adaptations and supreme stealth it is not hard to see why this amazing creature so quickly became feared. One thing we must always remember is that mountain lions are merely trying to survive in a world that is changing faster than ever before. Every animal has a role in nature, wither it be as predator or prey. The mountain lion helps to control the deer population which in turn helps more plants to survive to become food for other animals. Next time you are out in the woods, at a zoo, or here at the Science Center, take some time to absorb the incredible adaptations of these and many other animals.

No comments: