Opinion: Arizona Game and Fish should rethink how many female cougars it allows hunters to kill, if it wants to ensure their long-term survival.
Several winters ago, I saw three trucks racing down our dirt road in Wyoming. I knew they were cougar hunters and I went to meet them. They had already taken off their quarry, but two young men remained, loading their snowmobiles. I asked about their hunting.
“We had the lion kill an elk on the trail.”
I asked what sex the puma was. I know it’s not easy to distinguish women from men.
“It was a female,” they replied.
I told those young hunters she probably had kittens hiding somewhere.
“But we only saw his tracks around the killing site,” was their response. I knew then that they didn’t even have basic lion biology under their belt.
Most adult females have young dependents
These young hunters brought their cougar to Game and Fish the next day to check their tag. The agency biologist told them they had killed a young man. Even with the cougar dead, they didn’t know how to sex the animal.
This is a problem because mothers usually hide cubs under six months old when they go hunting. Even older kittens can be away from their mothers up to 50% of the time during the winter hunting season. Kittens normally stay with their mother for 18 months to two years.
Females usually care for the young or are pregnant, which is why three out of four adult females harvested each year are mothers with dependent young. Cubs less than a year old have virtually no chance of survival when hunters kill their mother.
When researching my book “Ghostwalker: Tracking a Lion’s Soul through Science and Story”, even the experienced hunters I interviewed agreed that females should not be hunted.
The proposed quota is too high, too complicated
Yet on April 1, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission will vote on changes to mountain lion hunts for the next five years that would allow 50% of the total number of lions killed in a particular hunting area to be lion hunts. females.
Arizona, like all western states, is divided into hunting zones for each animal, and each hunting zone has a certain number of lions that can be hunted. Once this quota is reached, hunting in this area is closed.
So if an area has a quota of 20 lions, Arizona suggests that once 10 females are killed in that hunting area, the area would close for the rest of the hunting season, but other areas would be opened if they did not reach their quota.
Each area would have a different quota depending on how many lions they want to remove.
Many conservation groups call for limiting the hunting of adult female cougars to 20% of the total quota for each unit. They want Game and Fish to consider adult females at 24 months instead of 36 months, an arbitrarily high threshold, given that most leave their mothers at 2 years old and are able to reproduce.
Makes sense. But there may be an easier way.
Require a class, lower the quota
Arizona Game and Fish should require a course in mountain lion biology and sex identification for all new lion hunters. Then the agency should either ban the killing of female cougars or at least implement a very limited total quota of females that would require hunters to be judicious and cautious in their hunt.
Hunters should be able to determine the sex of the animal before killing it, which would encourage an understanding of cougar biology and the reasoning behind a female quota. Fulfilling the quota of females would close a hunting unit.
This strategy is not new. In New Mexico, managers require a mandatory sexual identification course for all cougar hunters. When the percentage of females harvested from a unit begins to approach 30% of that unit’s total quota, managers close that unit for the remainder of the season.
This encourages hunters to avoid killing female cougars.
A base class and strict female quota would bring deep awareness to hunting dogs and ensure the long-term survival of Arizona’s cougar population.
Leslie Patten is the author of “Ghostwalker: Tracking a Mountain Lion’s Soul through Science and Story”. She lives in northwest Wyoming. Online: lesliepattenbooks.com.