Cougar Lessons in Coexistence


A growing North American cougar population has inspired scientists to take a close look at the risk this species presents to humans. In his 2011 analysis of 343 North American aggressive cougar encounters, David Mattson found that only 29 resulted in fatal human attacks. Young cougars in poor physical condition were more likely to threaten humans, but adult cougars were more likely to kill us. Yet compelling as such analyses may be, they fail to capture the breadth of cougar-human relationships.

Overt examples of coexistence between our species are uncommon, because of the cougar’s elusiveness. Yet occasionally a legendary animal comes along who provides such an example. In Banff National Park in response to Frances Frost’s 2001 death by cougar attack while cross-country skiing, managers radio-collared twelve cougars to study their behavior relative to humans. They had to chase one up five Douglas-fir trees before successfully collaring him. Subsequently dubbed Doug, this 150-pound tom proceeded to teach everyone astonishing lessons about coexistence.

Doug the Cougar, photo by John Marriott

Collar data quickly showed Doug’s propensity to hunt near human development. Sometimes he’d kill deer in one of the park picnic areas. These takedowns probably seemed a good idea under cover of darkness, but once the sun came up, Doug found himself amid lots of human activity. Still he continued to hunt in the area.

Managers and the public grew fond of Doug, who never threatened humans. His collar data showed that while in the park backcountry, which had low human activity, he became more diurnal. Banff human-wildlife conflict specialist Steve Michel uses Doug as an example of an animal who learned behavior (e.g., hunting at night) to coexist with humans. Doug eventually died at the ripe age of fourteen, when he fell through the ice while chasing an elk, leaving —> Read More