BIGGER KITTIES ADD NEW RISK TO ANIMAL CONTROL
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1997:
ARCADIA, Calif.––California Fish &
Game warden Mark Jeeter shot a puma pointblank
on January 28 in a suburban yard.
Once again bloodshed underscored the
warning ANIMAL PEOPLE issued in July 1996
that former pet pumas, not wild pumas, are
forming a dangerous fringe population around
many major North American cities.
Recounted Sergeant Endel Jurman,
field services department supervisor for the
Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA, “My officer
was standing behind the warden when the lion
was shot.” The warden, the PHS/SPCA, and
Arcadia police had all responded late at night to a
homeowner’s complaint that a puma was eating
his 40-pound dog.
“As officers entered the area where the
dead dog was,” Jurman continued, “the cat left it
and calmly walked to the other side of the yard.
The yard, in a fairly natural overgrown state,
was on a steep hillside, with wilderness below,
and a four-foot chain link fence. The officers said
it was very dark, and as the cat walked away and
rounded a corner, they slowly followed, to see if
it stayed in the yard or jumped the fence and left.
As they climbed back up the hill on the far side of
the yard, they saw the cat lying under a bush near
the top, 15 to 20 feet away. The cat stood and
took two big steps toward them, not pouncing nor
even running, but it did seem to be moving with
purpose. That’s when the warden shot it.”
Prudence permitted no other course:
the puma could have killed Jeeter and the humane
officer in much less time than a gun-fired tranquilizer
would need to take effect.
“Was it a pet?” Jurman asked. “We’ll
probably never know for certain, unless the
necropsy shows pulled teeth or removed claws.”
However, he added, “Our opinion is that with all
the police and other personnel around making
noise, shining flashlights, and so forth, there is
no way that lion would have stayed in the yard
munching away if he was a typical healthy specimen.
It was at least an hour between the homeowner’s
call about the dog and the shooting.”
5,000 BACKYARD PUMAS
ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate there
are now as many as 10,000 big cats in private
hands around North America, about half of them
pumas. Tigers and African lions make up most of
the rest. Hundreds of backyard big cat breeders
“sell” pumas, tigers, lions, et al as pets, almost
inevitably as kittens. Most of these kittens are
unaccounted for as adults. Few stay in homes for
long, however, as by the time they outgrow kittenhood,
they are far too strong and dangerous
for most people to handle––or for most homes
and yards to contain. Some breeders may take the
big cats back and, the rearing of the animals to
maturity having been paid for, turn around and
sell the big cats a second time, now to a roadside
zoo or canned hunt.
An institutional form of such a deal is
under civic scrutiny, at this writing, in Chippewa
Falls, Wisconsin, where for years the Irvin Park
Zoo has in effect boarded stock for notorious
alleged canned hunt supplier Mark Schoebel,
who delivers young animals to the zoo in the
spring, then collects them for resale in the fall.
(Letters opposing the deal may be addressed to
Roger Maurer, president, City of Chippewa
Falls Park Board, 1316 Waldheim Rd.,
Chippewa Falls, 54729.)
Other big cat owners desperately seek a
sanctuary––and often dump the problem on the
nearest humane society. Thus the Houston SPCA
held a 75-pound female puma from the end of last
summer to January 26, when she joined 12 other
cougars at Wildlife Rehabilitation & Rescue, of
Boerne. “The former Harris County owners took
her to the shelter because she stalked their children,”
Jerry Urban of the Houston Chronicle
reported. Meanwhile, just a day before that
transfer, Texas Parks & Wildlife brought the
Houston SPCA another cougar––in this case, one
who hadn’t been licensed.
A week earlier, the Marion County
Humane Society in Tennessee raised $3,000 to
subsidize the placement of 13 tigers left homeless
by the collapse of the Jimmy Carter Petting Zoo.
MCHS found no takers, in part because the funding
would barely cover upkeep for one tiger for a
year, but flamboyant promoter Joe Parker, of
North Knoxville, Tennessee, who has an extensive
record of operating illegal gambling casinos
in alleged support of charity, added the tigers to
his private collection, now numbering 56.
MCHS finally sent him the money.
Because of the paucity of appropriate
destinations, and because it’s possible to release a
puma with less chance of getting caught than if
one released a tiger or African lion, growing
numbers of apparent former pet pumas are apparently
being returned to the wild––with often tragic
consequences. ANIMAL PEOPLE had just
issued our July 1996 warning about puma dumping
when on July 8 one young puma tried to drag
eight-year-old Lance Veinguessner into the brush
near Nakusp, British Columbia, while another
puma injured Christine Frank, 5, as she played
on her swing in Lytton, B.C. Both attacks came
near main-traveled roads, about equi-distant from
Vancouver, in broad daylight, in areas of plentiful
wild prey, and in each case the puma, apparently
lacking hunting skill, did only superficial
injury to the human victim.
Pointing out these signs that the pumas
in question were ex-captives, ANIMAL PEOPLE
advised Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
reporter Eve Savory that someone might be
dumping pumas. Savory told us of yet another
apparent dumping case, a hungry young puma
who knocked on a window and was shot.
STARVING PUMA KILLS
On August 19, a fourth puma who
might have been dumped pounced on six-year-old
Steven Parolin’s foot as he rode horseback with
his brother David, 13, sister Melissa, 12, and
mother Cindy 37, near Princeton, B.C. Once
again it was an uncharacteristic broad daylight
attack noteworthy for ineptitude.
“My mom screamed,” recounted David
Parolin. “Then she jumped off her horse and
jumped on the cougar.” David and Melissa
dragged Steven away and fetched help, but armed
rescuers didn’t reach the scene for an hour, by
which time Cindy Parolin was fatally wounded.
Yet unable to finish her off, the puma merely
stood by, ignoring warning shots, until driven
back by a dog and dispatched by shotgun.
The two-year-old male puma, though
apparently not sick, was emaciated, in the midst
of abundant elk, deer, rabbits, and squirrels.
A three-year-old pet puma severely
mauled a two-year-old Toronto girl on August 27,
hours after her father brought the puma home
from a game farm. Publicity about the incident
may have panicked someone else into dumping a
pet puma, as less than a week later a month-long
string of puma sightings commenced in the suburbs
of Scarboro and Pickering. That puma may
finally have wandered out of town, as sightings
ceased after September 27.
A puma repeatedly seen at large last
August on Long Island, New York, however,
had no way to get out of developed areas, yet
apparently vanished without a trace.
Former pet pumas are even a problem in
Oklahoma, says the state Wildlife Department,
struggling to refute rumors that it is clandestinely
reintroducing pumas to the wild. “People who see
mountain lions are seeing animals which were
once pets,” a Wildlife Department advisory
explained last November. “There may be a few
mountain lions out there, but they weren’t put
there by us.”