The Interview

Polish historian and political scientist Jerzy Targalski conducts an interview with the Dutch  news program Niewsurr while his big orange tabby cat Lisio, steals the show – literally. I have no idea what he is talking about, but I don’t think that matters.

Whatever is being discussed, if there is a cat involved know that everything will be alright. Happy Caturday!

Via LaughingSquid

Caturday, News, Laughing Squid, Orange Tabby, Polish historian and political scientist Jerzy Targalsk,

Pumas of The Chilean Forests

For the most part mountain lions remain misunderstood by the majority of the public and, in most places in North America these cats are still very highly persecuted. Naturally shy with complex social lives, mountain lions (sometimes called cougars or pumas depending on geographic location) are animals that would really prefer to avoid humans if at all possible. In a world dominated by a singular powerful species they are doing their best to try to coexist and navigate through a web of set rules that they cannot possibly hope to master. Survival for these wild cats has become that much harder with mounting pressure in the forms climate change, habitat loss/fragmentation, prey loss, human-wildlife conflict, hunting, animal agriculture, and even media sensationalism – all which threaten their existence. Thankfully more and more research, which also confirms their invaluable role as ecosystem engineers, in North America is helping to shed light on why we need them and why we need to protect them. But what about the species lesser known relatives in South America?

Proyecto Carnívoros Australes is one group currently conducting studies in central Chile in an area that is relatively new to puma research, a region that is also designated one of the world’s top biodiversity’s hotspots. I recently interviewed project leader Christian Osorio, a PhD student of Dr. Marcella Kelly’s Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab*in Virginia, to find out more about his groups important work and what they hope to accomplish for the species in central Chile.

Why did you decided to focus on Pumas in central Chile?

Pumas are the most successful terrestrial mammals in the whole world with a range extending more than 100º latitude from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan. They live in a huge variety of habitats such as forests, deserts, shrub-lands, timber plantations and elevations from the coastline up to 4,500 meters above sea level. Nevertheless, puma research and conservation in Chile primarily focuses in the southernmost part like Torres del Paine National Park and surrounding areas and recently in the northernmost areas of the High Andean Plateau.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Camera-trap on high-elevation Andean grasslands within a private Natural Reserve, central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

The anthropogenic pressures in central Chile, specifically in the Maule Region from sea level to the high Andes, is increasingly strong and landscapes are heavily fragmented with extensive intensive timber plantations. Livestock breeding is a primary industry in this region which means that livestock-carnivore conflict is increasing and, I have known of several retaliatory shooting events against pumas which are often not reported. Natural reserves and protected areas are key to providing habitat as well as a safe-space for wildlife, but it’s the private productive lands that compromise areas far larger than the protected areas in Chile. Proyecto Carnívoros Australes focuses on conducting science-based conservation and management in both protected and unprotected areas with a strong emphasis on human-wildlife conflict mitigation.1

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor,

Puma (Puma concolor). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

How did Proyecto Carnívoros Australes come about?

I created Proyecto Carnívoros Australes during my doctoral research when I noticed there was a great need for carnivore research and conservation in central Chile, within the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot (CWR&VF). While working in the CWR&VF I had noticed that the threatened wildlife inhabiting the area required a long-term conservation effort far beyond a Ph.D. dissertation so, I decided to conduct long-term research and management in the area after I graduated. It was then that I also realized that it would require further funding and, after meeting with some colleagues I founded Proyecto Carnívoros Australes which we expect to turn into a lawful non-profit soon.

What is the Chilean Winter Rainfall and Valdivian Forests Biodiversity Hotspot and why is it important to conduct research there?

The CWR&VF is considered one of the worlds 25 biodiversity hotspots and this designation provides guidelines for global prioritization of conservation efforts. ‘Hotspots’ are areas that are biologically rich which means they have high variety of species, habitats and genetics, but they also tend to have high habitat loss and degradation rates. Thus, the CWR&VF comprises areas in which conservation and management are urgent.2,3

How does your study differ from research being done in southern Chile?

There are many differences between my study and others being conducted in southern Chile by Panthera, Fundacion Patagonia and others, all of which are very important and valuable by the way! I think with our research the most important difference is the situation and the surrounding context – besides natural reserves our study sites are located in productive areas with high human pressure, habitat fragmentation and very strong human-wildlife conflict, which differs slightly from the human-wildlife conflict in surrounding natural reserves. To my understanding the most interesting part of our project is that we are working in the natural protected reserves, to include all the wildlife there, and we are putting about half or maybe even more of our effort and energy into science-based conservation and management in the productive, non-protected areas.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Project leader Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop) setting camera trap on a private Natural Reserve, Andes Mountains of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

What are the threats pumas face in Chile?

Pumas major threats in Chile are similar to the threats faced by them in the rest of the species distribution range – habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching of their wild prey, and retaliatory hunting due to actual or perceived livestock predation. Nevertheless, most of these threats are very complex and vary significantly from place to place. The human dimensions of conservation becomes key to understanding human-wildlife conflict and managing it properly. We understand that effective wildlife conservation goes far beyond biology, thus the work by our team-member Dr. Solange Vargas on human-dimensions will be key to the success of our conservation efforts.

Do you hope your research helps to foster better public attitudes towards pumas?

Our work with Dr. Vargas specifically aims in the direction of transforming conflict and generating a positive attitude by the community towards pumas and wildlife in general. We hope that appropriate management of conflicts decreases livestock predation rates leading to a more positive perception about wildlife while promoting coexistence. For that reason, we want to work on direct management and also education with adults, youth and children. We already generated a project to work on that and we hope we will have a positive response to move ahead in that direction in the next few years.

Is it a priority to encourage local ranchers to coexist better with pumas?

Yes, that is my hope especially as livestock ranchers are often affected by puma predation, which can be successfully prevented. That is our most important objective regarding conflict management. We want to help them to protect their livestock successfully from predators, with non-lethal management strategies which have been recently proven to be successful in Chile. Thus, we will be able to protect human activities and wildlife at the same time promoting coexistence.

How is your study is being conducted?

Our project has two main areas the first is puma ecology and research and, second is human-wildlife conflict management and mitigation. For the puma ecology part we aim to estimate puma density in different sites (productive-unprotected and protected areas) and assess habitat use/preference, which will be done mostly relying on camera-trap data. We need lots of camera-traps, currently we have around 60%-70% of the units we need, and we hope we will have the remainder by the end of this year.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Guigna, Leopardus guigna

Kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For the human-wildlife management part, besides perception assessment mainly using focus-groups and predation report data provided by the government, we aim to set non-lethal predator deterrents (FoxLight) devices. These lighting devices help to prevent livestock predation by carnivores without harming them avoiding retaliatory killing against pumas.

Have you considered partnering with a larger organization or wildlife conservation photographer to help tell the story of pumas in central Chile?

I am actually a wildlife photographer myself and I keep teaching a wildlife photography class at VT, but have kept my camera in the bag for a while for this project. I am open to collaborating with any person or organization willing to do it, but big NGOs like Panthera are prioritizing their work on other areas, which is good and necessary. I have received significant support from the Wild Felid Research and Management Association, of which I am an active member of, through some grants I have been awarded as a graduate student. I am currently working with independent film-makers in Chile in order to create a documentary film about the project, which hopefully will be available this year or early next year. Personally, I think it is important to focus on priority areas in which large wildlife conservation agencies are not currently working, like central Chile. There is a great need and there are great people willing to work on and support this conservation effort

What has the local support for your project been like?

This project is being conducted in direct cooperation with the local and national wildlife authorities, whose technical and logistical support has been essential to our work. Two wildlife biologists in addition to myself, two wildlife veterinarians, an archaeologist and two professional film-makers are currently are on our staff. One private natural reserve within the study area has provided significant financial and operational support, like horses, vehicles and guides, and, the private owners of the timber plantations within the study area have shown a really good attitude toward our project by allowing us access to their lands and providing valuable operational support.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Mountains

Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

You recently shared a study about non-lethal deterrents. Can you briefly explain how it will help pumas?

The study, published by Dr. Omar Ohrens et al, is a keystone of conflict management in Chile. I had the joy to work with Dr. Ohrens years ago in the first years of his research at the Chilean Andean Plateau. His study provides scientific evidence that the use of non-lethal lighting devices successfully prevents livestock predation events by pumas, which is very important because it goes beyond the functionality of the device itself. It proves that these devices are actually used by people and that they can be introduced into the traditional livestock-ranchers culture, which is the most critical issue with any management tool we could provide. It doesn’t matter how effective a management strategy is if the people in the community do not accept and apply it, it will be useless. Dr. Ohrens and his team demonstrated the factibility of this management approach and provided methodological guidelines to apply it and assess its success. Studying different scenarios of human-wildlife conflict and the available management tools, in the context in which Dr. Ohrens conducted his study, is the most similar to the situation in my study area. In comparison, the livestock breeding style in southernmost Chile in which the use of guard dogs has proven to be a successful deterrent, is somewhat different.

Tell me about the Proyecto Carnívoros Australes GoFundMe campaign

Crowdfunding support is very important because even though we are constantly applying most available grants only allow us to purchase equipment, they do not allow us to fund operational expenses like gasoline or food and if they do it is only allowed in limited amounts. Thus, we often spend our personal funds to buy batteries, food, load gasoline into the vehicle (which we borrow from a generous person) or to change oil. This means the funds received through our GoFundMe campaign are vital to help fund these and other operational expenses. We plan to keep the GoFundMe campaign open through the duration of the project.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor

Camera at burned timber plantation, coast of central Chile. Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Do you think there is a potential in the future for puma friendly tourism in central Chile similar to that in southern Chile?

I am not sure yet, I need to have robust data on puma abundances, population densities and trends before answering this question confidently. However, I think it might be doable if the pumas are doing good in the mountain ranges of central Chile and specifically in a couple of private reserves we are partnering with.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Timber plantations

“The coastal ranges of our study area in central Chile were affected by huge (human caused) mega fires in the summer of 2017, which destroyed native forests and timber plantations. In the photo, burned land is being restored with native forest by Universidad de Chile.” Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

Anything else people should know about pumas in central Chile and your work?

There are two things – the first being that pumas share the habitat with smaller carnivores in the study area such as the Andean fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) and at least two small wild felids, the kodkod or guigna (Leopardus guigna) and the Pampas cat (Leopardus colocolo). The second important part of our work is regarding the major human-caused wildfires that occurred in the summer of 2017 in central Chile. The fires burnt a large area of native forests besides the timber plantation and we are still trying to understand if carnivore populations were impacted by this event and whether it may further impact conflict with humans.

Pumas, Chile, Conservation, Central Chile, Proyecto Carnivoros Australes, mountain lions, Puma concolor, Andean Fox

Andean Fox (Lycalopex culpaeus). Photo: Christian Osorio (@ctosoriop), Proyecto Carnívoros Australes (@carnivaustrales)

For more on this project and how you can support their work to help pumas and wildlife in central Chile please follow Proyecto Carnívoros Australes on Twitter and on Facebook. Their GoFundMe campaign is ongoing and will continue to accept donations during the project.

References

*.Marcella Kelly Wildlife Habitat and Population Analysis Lab

F1.Guarda, N., Gálvez, N., Leichtle, J., Osorio, C., & Bonacic, C. (2017). Puma Puma concolor density estimation in the Mediterranean Andes of Chile. Oryx, 51(2), 263-267. doi:10.1017/S0030605315001301

F2.Myers, N., R. A. Mittermeier, C. G. Mittermeier, G. A. Da Fonseca and J. Kent. (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403(6772):853–858

F3.Zachos, F. E., & Habel, J. C. (Eds.). (2011). Biodiversity hotspots: distribution and protection of conservation priority areas. Springer Science & Business Media.

The Watcher

Wonderful video of a peaceful encounter between Photographer Jay Staton and a highly endangered Florida panther. While negative and scary headlines sell, don’t believe all the media hype surrounding these animals who are curious and shy by nature. Given space and respect they will choose to stay clear of humans. There are many reasons to share this, including the fact that the species is in desperate need of honest and positive publicity, which this footage provides.

Florida panthers face multiple pressures – from vehicles, human development and major habitat loss which means time is running out to save them. Jay is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to replace custom camera traps, that were destroyed during hurricane Irma, so he can continue to document these amazing animals and tell their story. Please consider sharing with friends and family in Florida and others who wish to see the Florida panther have a much deserved chance of survival.

“I was kneeling at a pool of water filming walking catfish in a ditch in Fakahatchee. I positioned my GoPro camera under water pointing up so I could get the fish swimming above the camera. I walked to the other side of the pool to scare the catfish to swim over my camera. I walked back around to my camera to change its direction. But before I walked back to the other side, I noticed a panther also in the ditch less than 20 feet from me. I grabbed the GoPro camera from the water and pointed it in the direction of the panther. It was set on wide angle so the panther looks further away than 20 feet. I slowly got out of the ditch and walked to my car, some 30 feet away, to retrieve my video camera. When I got back the panther was no longer where I had seen him, but instead he was sitting right where I was kneeling at the water’s edge filming catfish. I set up the tripod and pushed record on my video camera. I walked back to my car calmly, 30 feet away (you can hear my footsteps in the video) to get my picture camera. The video footage shows the panther watched me walk back to my car. I slowly returned to my video camera and took 5 or 6 pictures of the panther. I had a 300mm lens on my full frame camera and the panther was too close to get all of it in frame, so I took parts of the panther to stitch the images together later in Photoshop. The panther decided at that point to leave. I was still trying to take a couple pictures, so I didn’t pan the video camera to follow him quick enough.”  – Via Jay Staton on YouTube:

Cats Of Rome

A beautiful tribute to Rome’s feline friends by Luxmuralis. See the cats of Rome like you have never seen them before, in lights and accompanied by music. This is an absolutely fantastic display of modern street art and, one of my favorite examples of cats in art.

Not A Lion

Museums have limited space which means many pieces remain buried away in storage with little chance of being displayed, but once in a while they are re-discovered like the ancient fossil that was recently examined by paleontologists in the Nairobi National Museum in Kenya. Hidden away waiting for its story to be told was a jaw bone from a ‘giant lion’ that had been unearthed decades ago, stored in a drawer and forgotten about until now.

“Simbakubwa kutokaafrika”, which means “big lion from Africa” in Swahili, belongs to a long extinct group of some of the largest terrestrial carnivorous mammals known, Hyainailourine hyaenodonts, which roamed the earth about 22 millions years ago. Despite the name this animal was not a lion or related to the cats, rather it was a member of a group of mammals who had teeth closely resembling a hyenas, even though they are also unrelated.

Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Simbakubwa was estimated to have weighed up to 1,500kg and could have preyed upon elephant-like creatures that lived during the same time.  Image AFP BBC.com

Simbakubwa wasn’t just any big carnivore, it was significantly larger than a modern lion and polar bear with an equally impressive jaw and blade like teeth to match its super size. In addition to the front canines Simbakubwa had three pairs of meat slicing teeth in the back – to put that into perspective carnivores like the modern lion, domestic cat, raccoons and wolves only have one pair. Conjuring up images of a perfect and frightening killing machine the fossil will serve to help researchers put together the missing pieces of what life and the environment may have been like for these hyper-carnivores and their prey, as well as shed light on why they went extinct.

 Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Image – Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology Simbakubwa kutokaafrika (A,B,C) mandible, with Panthera leo (D) mandible for comparison.

Hyaenodonts dominated the scene for a long time but ultimately disappeared along with their relatives by the end of the Miocene epoch, approximately five million years ago. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why such a powerful and well adapted species went extinct, but not unlike modern carnivores, Simbakubwa was likely a victim of changes in its environment. They hypothesize that due to this disruption their prey also started to vanish and Simbakubwa soon followed unable to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape.

 Kenya, Fossil, Giant Lion, New discovery, Prehistoric Cats

Fact file on an ancient giant predator that lived 23 million years ago in Africa AFP/Jonathan WALTER ©AFP Image – Channel News Asia

Paleontologist Matthew Borths tells National Geographic that modern hyper-carnivores like lions and tigers “are among the most endangered mammals we have, and part of the reason for that is they’re so sensitive to environmental disruption”. He goes on to say that since their populations are relatively small compared to other organisms, they suffer most when the food chain begins to destabilize.

Giant lion or not Simbakubwa is still a fascinating discovery with a story that can be taken as a reminder of just how fragile species are and, in the Anthropocene that is something to think about as we try to save modern predators like tigers and lions from extinction.

Bobcats, Trapping and Trophies

I don’t often re-post other blogs, but I recently came across a fantastic piece on the Wyoming Untrapped website that addresses trapping, trophy hunting and to borrow a phrase – the subjugation of wildlife. Please read Ken Bouley’s post, share it and, if you live in Wyoming, have family or friends there consider supporting Wyoming Untrapped.

My thanks go to Ken Bouley for granting permission to share his work including photographs, all content is reproduced below with some formatting changes. To view Ken’s wonderful photographs in full size, which I suggest, please visit his original post here.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

Bobcats are always themselves. I live near a national park where I see them frequently, Lynx rufus californicus, along with badgers, coyotes, owls, otters, and more in the wild. I am always thrilled, and I savor the idea of another creature, out on its own, fending for itself, as they say, executing its evolved nature with the tools time has willed to it.

Though I sit inside at my desk right now, the bobcat I photographed last weekend is at this moment somewhere among the chaparral, resting for its next hunt, or sheltering from the rain under a boulder, or swiveling its ears to locate a coyote chorus on the next ridge, and gauge its distance. Last Sunday this cat stalked, caught, and ate a gopher in front of me, licked its paws and then walked away.

I suspect our evolution includes being enthralled by carnivores.  For one thing, we should find them (at least) interesting for our own well-being, lest we become prey. But for another, their presence signposts a healthy environment including food, water, cover, etc. So, they’re meaningful to us, whether the message is a threat or a reassurance. This is just an idea, and sometimes in evolutionary biology people are guilty of constructing what are called “just so” stories, which sound plausible but are not disprovable, and therefore don’t count as scientific theories.

Recently I’ve been concerned with trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting and killing contests. I struggle to understand it. I recommend an article by Todd Wilkinson called A Death of Ethics: Is Hunting Destroying Itself? Hunters are not all the same, it argues, and should not all be tarred with the same brush (or rather shot with the same shotgun). I think that’s right to a certain extent.

Embedded in the article is an unsettling photograph of a dead or dying coyote, which I won’t attempt to describe here, but which revisits me, unexpectedly and against my will. The article also includes a video of someone hunting a coyote—successfully, I regret—with a snowmobile. Note I said with a snowmobile, not from a snowmobile. I know it’s not easy but just think about that. I know someone who won’t look at that picture after I described it to her. I myself have not (yet?) watched the video (and am re-conveying its content only from the written description).

The photograph and the video both come to us via social media, where the context, by the way, is conquest, not prosecution (or even just shame). In other words, whoever did this unspeakable act doesn’t mind speaking about it and is so callous (and, as I will argue, ethically crippled) as to brag about it. He has probably done it again since, who knows how many times. I can pity the “hunter” almost as much as the coyote, but I can only empathize with the canine.

How can this be? How can someone do such a thing, and be unconcerned with the dreadfulness of it?

Of course, we know there are psychopaths in our society, who are constitutionally incapable of empathy. But I don’t think that’s what this is. For one thing, there are too many people entirely cold-hearted towards animals for us to dismiss it is as neurologically crossed wires. Many of these people appear to be morally normal in other respects. You may have heard about the Florida teacher who drowned two raccoons and a possum in front of his students, as part of a lesson. Or the Idaho game commissioner forced to resign after killing an entire family of baboons with bow and arrow in Namibia (and yes, boasting about it on the web). And you know about Cecil the lion. Just a few days ago customs officers in India found a weakened leopard cub in a man’s luggage. Less anecdotally, Bobcats are legally “harvested” for the fur trade in 38 US states, and in seven Canadian provinces.

And whereas serial killers (of humans) don’t form social clubs, don’t solicit sponsorship for killing contests, and don’t generally run classroom demonstrations, there is evidence linking zoosadism with violence towards people. Some of the literature characterizes zoosadism as a precursor to psychotic behavior, rather than as a form of it.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

In Wilkinson’s aforementioned article, he carefully differentiates classical hunters in the Teddy Roosevelt tradition, who follow a clear code of ethics built around fair pursuit, no wanton waste, and respect for the animal, from the thrill-seeking, bloodlust, snowmobile crowd. (If you doubt the prevalence of the latter, just google “killing contests.”) This seems the main point of the article.Although those differences are important, there is something in common between the two groups.

Consider this argument:

  • Premise 1: It is wrong to cause suffering unnecessarily.
  • Premise 2: Trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting, cause suffering unnecessarily.

Conclusion: Therefore, trapping and hunting, especially trophy hunting, are wrong.

In logic, an argument is called “valid” when, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. An argument is called “sound” if it is valid and its premises are true. If it’s sound, then its conclusion is true – it’s right, and there’s no getting around it. Reading the above syllogism, it’s hard to see how it could be invalid except in some technical, esoteric sense. But it could fail to be sound if one or both of its premises are wrong.

One way that could be is if some hunting or trapping is necessary (then the second premise is false). “Necessary” here could mean the activity is subsistence, a matter of survival. In 2019, in the United States anyway, you would be pressed to substantiate such a claim, but for the sake of argument let’s say we admit some hunting is a matter of survival and perhaps some trapping is literally the only available livelihood for some people in some circumstances. Such cases are excluded. Trophy hunting and killing contests are certainly not.

(By the way, sometimes you encounter this reasoning: if animals hunt, it’s natural, and people are part of nature; therefore hunting by people is not wrong. But firstly, most hunting by animals is subsistence. People don’t need to eat meat at all. More to the point, moral questions don’t arise in the first place unless there is choice involved. We can’t say if animals do it then it’s OK, otherwise, we include infanticide, rape, cannibalism, etc.)

The more significant and relevant challenge to the argument is if the first premise is false, which would be the case if animals don’t suffer, or if only human suffering matters. In his now famous work, Practical Ethics (1979), Peter Singer writes:

“The basis of my belief that animals can feel pain is similar to the basis of my belief that children can feel pain. Animals in pain behave in much the same way as humans do, and their behavior is sufficient justification for the belief that they feel pain. It is true that, with the exception of a few animals who have learned to communicate with us in a human language, they cannot actually say that they are feeling pain – but babies and toddlers cannot talk either. They find other ways to make their inner states apparent, however, demonstrating that we can be sure that a being is feeling pain even if the being cannot use language. To back up our inference from animal behavior, we can point to the fact that the nervous systems of all vertebrates, and especially of birds and mammals, are fundamentally similar. Those parts of the human nervous system that are concerned with feeling pain are relatively old, in evolutionary terms. Unlike the cerebral cortex, which developed only after our ancestors diverged from other mammals, the basic nervous system evolved in more distant ancestors and so is common to all of the other ‘higher’ animals, including humans. This anatomical parallel makes it likely that the capacity of vertebrate animals to feel is similar to our own.”
Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

I’m tempted to omit any adjudication but will say it’s equally easy to produce old testament quotes to justify genocide (of humans). Of course, it’s not just Christian societies which have traditionally battered animals as if they were inanimate and insignificant. But the first quote is just the kind of anachronism the Enlightenment shed light on, exposited via such insights as offered in the second quote.

There’s an idea contained in the second quote which I think is worth pondering, and this is how I try to answer the question of how someone can kill a coyote with a snowmobile and brag about it. Some people don’t care about animals because they don’t think of animals as anything to care about. As implied in the second quote, and of course well past 1789, some people thought it was ok to enslave Africans because they didn’t think of Africans as anything to care about. Women were once property; at one time children were rather beaten than heard. One can conceive of the entire progress of ethics and regard for justice in human society as an ever-expanding sphere of consideration, from the self to the family, to the clan/tribe, race, nation, and not-quite-finally, to the global community. “Not-quite” because if you accept that you must be morally concerned with anything capable of suffering, then the species boundary is arbitrary, and must fall.

Incidentally, if that is right, then “nationalists” could be considered in some sense morally evolved by virtue of the ability to care about strangers, to feel a kinship with their countrymen… although of course, the ugly reality of it includes jingoism and xenophobia. I wonder if people involved in wildlife killing contests are more likely to be concerned with “illegal aliens” and supportive of border walls and the like.

Another noteworthy aside is that some people who apparently don’t feel it necessary to grant any sympathy to wild animals nonetheless genuinely love their own pets (sometimes these are hunting dogs).  So, the same person who will sleep with their dogs and send them out to tree a mountain lion ahead of their taking the heroic shot will genuinely mourn if one of those dogs is killed by the beset cat. The apparent inconsistency is not on its face problematic and might be explained by considering that the dog is accepted into the tribe, so the ever-expanding sphere of consideration is not actually strict with respect to species but uses other criteria.

Anyway, I am suggesting that categorically excluding (wild) animals from any moral consideration is a necessary aspect of a classic, Roosevelt hunter or Voyager trapper as much as it is of a less palatable and courser death-fetishist as would hunt a dog with a snowmobile. The former is less objectionable to the populace, and is woven into our cultural history, and would rather the latter go away so as not to scrape at the veneer of tradition.

The former, too, maintains that respect for the animal is necessary (one of the three pillars of the hunter’s moral code), and this is a serious point. I wonder, however, if one can respect a wild animal and kill it.

I realize one can pull the trigger or release the bowstring with an attitude of respect, and I have no doubt this is often the case. But is that what’s important, the frame of mind around the act?

If that’s the important part, then, of course, one could commit murder with an attitude of respect, or capture a slave that way, or beat a child that way, etc. Should a judge be more lenient if she believes you indeed robbed a shop owner, but with an attitude of respect? Can you really fire a bullet or shoot an arrow through the ribs and into the heart or lungs of a living creature… with respect? Is respect merely an emotion or can it be judged objectively? Put differently, if hunters are willing to ambush and shoot-dead creatures they respect, what are they willing to do to those they don’t respect? The fact remains that for the coyote (or elk or cougar or grizzly), whether you are trampled under a snowmobile by a braggart trailing empty beer cans or shot from a legal blind with marksmanship and proper attendant piety, you may suffer terror and pain — especially if it is not a clean shot. Cecil the lion was shot with an arrow but not found again and finished off until the next morning, 10 to 12 hours later. And of course, the rest of your life is denied you—with respect.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

If wild animals have intrinsic value and are sentient beings who can suffer, this supplants a popular sentiment heard from sincere, liberal people with conservationist impulses. I always get a little uncomfortable when I hear a defense of wildlife or wilderness based on the anthropocentric notion of commonwealth (natural resources, land of many uses, good planets are hard to find, etc.) Wildlife belongs to everyone, you will hear, and if you over-hunt this area now, or clear-cut it, or flood it with a boondoggle dam, we’ll all be denied beauty and recreation, and my grandchildren will inherit a less healthy, ecologically impoverished world. There are mindfulness and justification in that sentiment. However, it limits the sphere of concern, still, to people only, and does not oppose any kind of cruelty unless there is some consequence to people, some ricochet to be dodged. But wildlife belongs to itself and we should not arrange our ethics such that it admits of slaughtering innocent creatures so long as there’s plenty of them.

Wyoming Untrapped recently cosponsored a study which found that bobcats in Yellowstone are worth about 1,000 times more alive than dead. Such studies are quite useful in certain arenas and certainly there are many agencies and constituencies where such a finding will sway officials and policy, and this is good. Note this is a prudential argument, not a moral one. But hypothetically, what if the numbers had come out differently? The numbers might, in fact, come out differently for rhinos or pangolins or skunks, or Tule elk (as in Point Reyes National Seashore). Trophy hunters make similar claims in reverse for the net effects of their hunts (that the fees collected do more good than harm compared against the “taking” of the trophy animals), and the most common rebuttal is that they have the math backward. But once you accept a commercial set of terms, the chips will fall where they will.

Seemingly, things are improving, though not fast enough. I believe hunting and trapping will eventually go the way of slavery, segregation, corporal punishment, and frontier justice. I realize abhorrence of these is not quite universal, but as a society, we have sworn them off, and we presume private holdouts are a dying breed, if asymptotically. You can see parallels in the trends, with fewer defenders, fewer practitioners and mounting opposition in various public spheres. And as Steven Pinker points out in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, there are tipping points — things can change quickly. It was not long ago when people in many cultures attended public executions, on a Saturday afternoon, as entertainment, jeering at the doomed on display.

Pinker “The way to explain the decline of violence is to identify the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.”

We are not genetically any different from our recent ancestors who were doing the jeering. Our grandparents and great-grandparents likely had beliefs and practices we find reprehensible, and an interesting question is, what are the things we do or tolerate now which will be similarly reviled by the generation about to be born. I hope there are many because it will mean progress.

Groups such as Wyoming Untrapped, Project Coyote, the Center for Biological Diversity, embody “the changes in our cultural and material milieu that have given our peaceable motives the upper hand.” They are gathering momentum, exposing cruelty and injustice, amplifying and channeling growing public sentiment, and influencing policies and legislation. There is a new bill right now aiming to make animal cruelty a federal offense.

Wyoming Untrapped, Ken Bouley, Bobcats, Trophy hunting, wildlife conservation, wildlife photography

Image ©Ken Bouley

I encourage anyone motivated at all by the plight of wild animals who are hunted and trapped to do three things

  • vote accordingly;
  • reach out to support at least one group like those just mentioned;
  • and don’t be afraid to let people know that you think it’s wrong and has to stop.

“Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” – Ed Abbey

Personally, I’m allergic to confrontation, but the more I think about the immense suffering caused by hunting and trapping, the more I force myself to speak up.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”  – Winston Churchill

Of course, if you are not motivated by this suffering, it’s unlikely an ethical argument is going to change that. Some people miss the good old days and would attend those public executions if only they were still on. Some are motivated only by self-interest and prudential arguments; some will simply obey the law; some are moved by fear of shame. The demographics of relevant attitudes, motivations, and practices are undoubtedly complex. And yet progress on the social scale seems inexorable.

Last Sunday as I was headed home after watching that bobcat, I saw another cat on the side of the road and stopped, got out slowly and quietly to peer over the raised shoulder and into the field where she (I think) was sitting still. I was fortunate to have two extraordinary sightings in one short afternoon. She saw me—they always do—and I was careful not to get too close. You never want to disturb a hunt or other essential activity (well, mostly, they hunt.) She wasn’t hunting though, but yawned, groomed, squinted, and stretched, much like my house cats do. (I’ve never heard a bobcat purr, but I read that they do.) This cat was free and relatively safe in a national park. Many more are in very different situations where they can be hunted or trapped without limit, where they are considered ‘furbearers,’ nuisance species, varmints. It’s not right, and it has to stop.

Text and Pictures by Ken Bouley

British Columbia’s Wildlife Needs Your Help

Wildlife killing contests seem to be popping up everywhere, but Canadians may be shocked to learn that they are happening right here. Currently, British Columbia is allowing groups to host three such events and a number of animal protection groups have signed an open letter to ask the BC government to bring an immediate end to all current contests and, prohibit them from happening in the future. Killing wildlife for fun and points has no place in our society and it is time for all Canadians to take a stand against these outdated practices. Killing predators is not sustainable, ethical or scientific – it is simply an excuse for people to satisfy their blood lust.

In a phone interview with Daily Hive Vancouver, Wildlife Defence League Co-founder and Executive Director Tommy Knowles said tournaments like the one in Creston Valley are cruel, result in the unnecessary killing of predators, and that there’s little to no science “that these contests actually have any effect in recovering ungulate populations.”

So why does the government allow these tournaments of death to continue? The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources says it “doesn’t condone or encourage wildlife-killing contests but noted there are no rules that prevent them from being held so long as hunters are properly licensed and follow the laws.”  Remember, just because some is legal does not mean it is right.

Bristish Columbia, BC, wildlife, wolves, mountain lions, cougars, wildlife kiling contests

DISTURBING IMAGES: Photos submitted by environmental groups show hunters posing with predators they killed during wildlife killing contests.Global News

In addition to a wolf whacking contest a spokesperson for the Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club told the Daily Hive that hunters are targeting cougars and it’s more likely that that animal would be taken out. A “predator tournament” running from March 16 to 24 sponsored by Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club has a point system for killing different animals: three points for cougars or wolves, two for coyotes and one for raccoons. They also offer cash prizes for the top three contestants.

Bristish Columbia, BC, wildlife, wolves, mountain lions, cougars, wildlife kiling contests

HOW TO HELP
  1. The Fur-Bearers have a petition for Canadians, with a form letter ready to go. Simply enter your name, address and email (please sign and share if you live in Canada)
  2. Conservation groups Wildlife Defence League and Pacific Wild also suggest people speak out against the Creston Valley Rod and Gun Club’s Predator Tournament, and contests like it by contacting the province to voice their opposition against the event. This option is open to anyone regardless of where you live. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy may be contacted by email or phone:
  • Telephone: 1-800-663-7867
    EnquiryBC@gov.bc.ca
  • Hon. George Heyman – Minister of Environment & Climate Change Strategy.
    E-mail: george.heyman.MLA@leg.bc.ca
    Telephone:(250) 387-1187
  • Fish and Wildlife – Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development
  • Email: FishandWildlife@gov.bc.ca
    Telephone:1-877-855-3222
  • Hon. Doug Donaldson – Minster of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations & Rural Development
    Email: doug.donaldson.MLA@leg.bc.ca
    Telephone: (250) 387-6240