Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion by Montana wildlife biologist Jim Williams is about his work with mountain lions in North America and assisting with puma conservation in South America. Accompanying Jim’s personal stories and interactions with colleagues, ranchers and hunters are a number of wonderful photographs and maps, including one on the inside cover of the book which shows the mountain lions former range, their known current range and likely path of dispersal.
If you need an introduction to what impacts predator conservation and recovery then Path of the Puma will provide a good overview – politics, livestock, loss of connectivity, climate change, industry, habitat loss, poaching, over hunting of prey species and lions by humans and, general cultural attitudes towards the species. All of these things, which you will find intricately woven through each of the chapters, in combination or on their own have the ability to threaten mountain lions everywhere.
As Jim recounts his work on the Mountain Caribou Recovery Project in British Colombia, a controversial project that wrongfully targeted predators like mountain lions as the cause of declining caribou numbers, we are reminded that “it’s a whole lot easier to blame the predator” rather than limit our own activities that affect wildlife. Path of the Puma also tells us that the science and research demonstrates mountain lions are able to self regulate their own populations through territory, they do not wipe out their food sources or prey species and, there are greater threats to people than the very rare lion attack.
Perhaps one of the most controversial topics that is discussed in the book is the role that sport hunting plays in conservation and how the majority of wildlife agencies use it as a management tool. Even with the evidence telling us they don’t need to be managed and that sport hunting does have negative repercussions, by causing more conflicts than it solves, mountain lions are hunted almost everywhere in the western U.S. and Canada. The old world attitudes are still very much alive and entrenched in the minds of those that determine the fate of mountain lions who continue to appear to be a sacrifie to appease special interest groups.
Mountain lions were once widely distributed throughout North and South America right up through to northern Canada until they were eradicated from much of their historical range, the result of government bounties and perceived threat to livestock. Today while it can be argued populations have some stability in the western U.S. and Canada, their numbers are no where near to what they were historically. Are mountain lions really beating the odds? I know it is something we hear often and it is the message in this book, but I have a very hard time buying into that. To believe that mountain lions are somehow exempt from having their numbers dangerously reduced to the point of being pushed towards extinction, is foolish on our part. These animals are resilient, but they are not invincible.
Path of the Puma is a great read full of valuable insight on mountain lion behavior and human behavior, with an interesting mix of science and contradictions. Mountain lions are a remarkable species that can continue to thrive if we allow them to, but it requires us to work towards a more progressive model of wildlife management where conserving them is a priority.
For more on the book check out an interview with Jim and The Explores Club NY on Facebook, the hour long presentation can be seen here.