When Mountain Lions Come To Town

On May 6 in Omaha Nebraska, a mountain lion was spotted curled up beside an office complex. The big cat was seen sleeping next to an outside wall tucked in behind shrubbery, oblivious to what would come next. Even though the cat had suffered from a broken leg he showed no signs of aggression as he peacefully rested. Pictures taken from that day show a non-threatening big cat curiously looking up as people, safely locked inside the building, snapped his picture.

Omaha Police were contacted and a “public safety emergency” was called. They contacted both The Nebraska Humane Society and the Game and Parks Commission, who after assessing the situation together decided tranquilizers were not an option and that they had no alternative but to shoot and kill the sleeping cat.

“Officers placed themselves between the mountain lion and the public then attempted to humanely euthanize the mountain lion. After the first shots were fired, the mountain lion rose up and officers fired until they were certain the animal posed no further threat to public safety and to end its suffering.” 

Video from a media report surfaced and what you see is disturbing and heartbreaking and far from humane euthanasia. You never actually see the Mountain Lion who is behind the low wall, but what you do see are officers firing shots over and over. The video is about a minute long, which is the same length of time it took for them to kill the big cat. Rounds of bullets are fired, then silence as the injured and terrified cat tries in vain to stand and escape it’s torment. Then another set of bullets, followed by silence, then bullets… Witnesses report the injured cat tried to rise a few times in what could only be imagined a desperate attempt to flee it’s persecutors. By the time it was all over the mountain lion had been shot over 15 times.

Ultimately the shoot first ask questions later policy, stems from Nebraska’s outdated Mountain Lion Response Plan that was established after a 2003 incident in Omaha where a Mountain Lion was shot, then tranquilized and transported to a zoo. However lack of enough space on public lands and fear of them moving onto private property has prompted Nebraska to maintain a policy of not releasing mountain lions back into the wild.

“Decision makers must find a way to integrate time, knowledge, and heightened awareness into policy if man’s broken relationship with the wild is to be healed.” Cougar Fund – Image – Animalia-life

Responses from both The Cougar Fund and Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) were issued condemning the killing. Fear and outdated policies clearly do not make good companions and only fuel the myth that mountain lions are simply nothing more than bloodthirsty killers, who are out to get humans.

Claiming that the children (who were safely inside the building) were at risk, police officers proceeded to shoot a barrage of bullets and kill the non-aggressive animal…To a gullible, trusting public it sounds as if a valiant knight, in the form of the Omaha Police Department, rode up on their white charger and rescued a crowd of children from the clutches of certain death. Too bad that scenario does not take into account any of the facts. First, the mountain lion, despite lounging next to a building full of children, showed no sign of aggression. In fact it appeared to witnesses to be sleeping when the police showed up. “ – MLF

The release from the Cougar Fund mirrored the same sentiment  “ the lion died by a cruel and unacceptable method, the videos are excruciating for us to see and hear and it is almost unbearable to imagine how much this lion suffered: not because of the protocol to kill cougars in urban areas; not because of an imminent threat to the sadly, already abused children present in Project Harmony; not because the Humane Society was unable to find a trajectory for their tranquilizers; but because fear prevented the decision makers from taking the time to carefully assess the level of threat and from their decision to use unsophisticated weaponry to kill the lion.

Susan Bass of Big Cat Rescue tells The Dodoeven injured, the mountain lion could have been saved if officials had wanted to. He could have been returned to the wild, where bones often heal on their own, she said. And while treating wild animals is difficult, BCR is currently caring for one mountain lion who had two injured legs.

So many things are wrong with what happened in Nebraska and if officials had truly exhausted all possibilities of tranquilizing and relocating the cat, why did they not bring in a trained professional to do the job quickly rather than prolonging it’s suffering by shooting the animal over a dozen times? Many people are greatly angered over this incident and rightfully so, I felt and still feel that anger when I think about it.  Sadly however this not an isolated incident. When mountain lions come to town, they generally do not get a warm welcome.

I recall a similar event that occurred last September in Canada when Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers shot and killed a mountain lion outside of the South Calgary Health campus for “public safety” reasons. Witnesses in this case had also reported that the cat was just “snoozing in the grass”.

Cougar killed in Calgary April 2014.CBC

Canada this goes on in our backyard to we are not immune, what happened in Nebraska has happened here. Mountain lion shot in Calgary – Image – CBC News

The scenario in Calgary is disturbingly similar to that of Nebraska and differs only in that there is video of the animal being shot. It was recorded by someone inside the building that day and is truly shocking, watching it brought me to tears. It is a terrible act that needs to be acknowledged if we are to address how we live with and treat wildlife like mountain lions. Ensuring our wildlife agencies are prepared to handle situations like this without resorting to simply killing an animal is vital.

Please be aware this video is graphic and disturbing

Like Nebraska, the killing drew criticism from city residents and animal lovers, however a review later cleared the officers of any wrongdoing. After the shooting someone marked the spot where the cat was killed with a cross, then later with flowers.

Mountain lions everywhere face a multitude of problems including habitat loss and fragmentation; hunting by farmers protecting their livestock; sport hunting; vehicular deaths; and genetic inbreeding. Death by willful ignorance on our part, shouldn’t be on the list.

Finally I have to address the elephant in the room. It had been practically screaming at me the whole time I followed this story, how could I see it and not the officials in Nebraska? It had to do with Los Angeles and P-22. After the mountain lion had taken up residence in the crawl space of a house in a highly populated area, local wildlife officials worked to get him safely out without resorting to lethal methods. He wasn’t harmed and neither were any humans.

How to help mountain lions

Image - Wikipedia

“The bottom line is that some Nebraskan decision makers have let unrealistic fear guide their policies decisions. By hiding behind the excuse of public safety they can act as if they did something noble, and do not have to admit that they might be wrong. It’s time to pull the blind from the eyes of the public and for them to demand accountability – not excuses – for these so-called acts of public safety from those in authority.” – Mountain Lion Foundation

Educate yourself and others. Both MLF and The Cougar Fund offer numerous resources so you can get properly informed on the facts, these organizations are both doing great work and are willing to help you, help mountain lions.

Get involved where you live by finding out who the policy makers are and politely and respectfully ask them to protect these big cats by adopting up-to-date policies that will enable them to better handle situations like what happened in Nebraska.

Whenever I read about these tragic events I lose faith in my species, more and more I believe it’s the wildlife that needs protection from us and not the other way around. Changing long-held beliefs and busting myths surrounding predators like mountain lions is not going to be easy, but it’s something we need to do before they disappear from the landscape for good.

For more on North America’s Lion, continue to watch this space.    

6 thoughts on “When Mountain Lions Come To Town

    • Yes there was, I remember that as well. Private ownership of big cats is sadly also a real problem especially in the US. Hopefully people can separate TV from reality. This issue of wildlife being killed for no other reason than trying to adapt to us is a problem that is happening all over. I hope awareness will encourage people to advocate for better policies. Thanks very much for your comment!

    • I really wish there wasn’t a need to but I think it’s important for people to know so they can act. It would be a shame to loose these animals & know there was something we could do to prevent it. Thank you for your message & for reading it!

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