None of the wild animal exhibits in the office of the Park Naturalist at Paradise Valley attracts more attention than does the mounted cougar which, in its glass-front case, invariably elicits spirited remarks from young and old. Curiously enough nearly all make practically the same statement when first they catch a glimpse of the excellent pose and watchful attitude of this " big cat. "
" Say, I'd hate to meet him in the dark! " With slight variations this expresses the view of the average visitor. Then he turns to inquire, " Are there many of them in the Park ? " Upon being assured that this species is fairly abundant, he shudders. " Well - er, do they come around here? "
As a matter of fact the cougar, also known as puma, panther, catamount, or mountain lion, has been widely misrepresented. It is held for example, that he lies in wait, ready to pounce from a tree upon any unwary person who may chance to pass that way. There is also a very common impression that the cry of a mountain lion is similar to the agonized screen of a woman or the wail of an infant in distress.
Cases are on record in which the mountain lion has actually attacked human beings, but such are very rare, for this animal is essentially a coward. It is usually difficult to catch sight of him, for although his broad, cat-like tracks may be seen in the snow or in soft, marshy soil, the owner prefers to remain in seclusion, particularly if there is a good, live dog near by. A dog of the right sort can in fact tree a cougar and keep him there until the hunter arrives with a rifle; this being the usual method of location and shooting these predatory beasts.
In Rainier National Park it is customary for the Park Rangers to kill a few cougars each winter in order to protect the deer and other victims of their appetite from extermination, it having been estimated that in one year a hundred deer lose their lives due to the activities of a single mountain lion.
As for the belief that the cougar screams, there is but little evidence to substantiate this. Old cougar hunters who have shot scores of them over a period of many years say that they have yet to catch one in the act. Yet the rumor is upheld by certain authorities whose word has undoubted weight. However this may be, there is no ground for fear that any visitor to the Park will be disturbed by a cougar, for the latter has no desire to mix with the genus homo, if he can possibly avoid such a meeting.
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