The story of recent killings of two young cougars in Crook County stands in sharp contrast to the fate of Elsa, the young lion cub adopted by George and Joy Adamson several years ago and related in Joy’s best-seller, “Born Free,” about their adoption and raising of Elsa. This was no anthropomorphic or Bambi-syndrome venture. The goal that was set and achieved was to return Elsa to her natural habitat in the wild.
The difference in fates between the young cougars and Elsa appears to have been determined by the differences in knowledge, intelligence and moral imperatives of the human participants in these stories. George Adamson was a game warden in Africa with, obviously, a profound understanding of wildlife. He was no sentimentalist as demonstrated by his killing of Elsa’s mother when she attacked Adamson because of her misperception of a threat to her young. Obviously, he could also have wiped out the three cubs who were orphaned. Instead, two were shipped to zoos while Elsa was raised by the Adamsons. Fear, apparently, didn’t play a role in their decision-making as apparently was the case in Crook County.
In this incident, officials appear to have conformed to conventional wisdom, which all too often is bereft of enlightened counsel. Worse, as we have learned from too many stories in the media in our pathologically violent nation, killing seems to be among the first options for some people to resolve problems. Also, given the annual practice of trappers displaying and selling the pelts of their tragic victims in Prineville and their being aided and abetted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is not surprising that these young cougars were summarily killed. When people are desensitized by the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals every year in the cruelest of ways, what’s the big deal about two more?
Was an option to humanely trap these young cougars and ship them to an animal sanctuary not fully, or even, considered? Previous sightings of cougars in the area should have prompted better preparation than the usual bullets. In fairness to Prineville and Crook County, which can boast of a commendable humane society, we shouldn’t consider them poster figures for animal abuse. People in most rural areas have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for callous indifference to and treatment of wildlife. Shoot, shovel, and shut up, anyone? There is, unfortunately, an abundance of places from Alaska to Florida where indifference to animal abuse and killing is prevalent and there are countless people who would pull the trigger.
Speculation suggests that the mother of these two cougars was shot by a hunter. There is another possibility. She and her cubs could have been three more of thousands of unintended victims of traps that defile our public lands.
A representative of the ODFW appears to have given the department’s imprimatur for this killing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. This department of conventional wisdom seems to have been infiltrated with bureaucrats assigned the role of the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse judging by their support of trappers and promotion of laws that punish people for releasing trapped animals. A year in jail and/or $6,250 fine. It appears that could also apply to releasing your own pet if it were caught in a trap, but according to one trapper discussing this with a supporter of Trap Free Oregon (trapfreeoregon.com,) trappers wouldn’t prosecute a pet owner who released his or her pet. Now that is really big-hearted. But what would happen if someone released an intended victim in response to his or her moral standards or the pleas of a child who was traumatized at the sight of a suffering animal?
As Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” What does that say about us?