When we’re 4 years old we dread the monsters in the dark, the thing we think is under our bed, the creatures of our imaginations that creep toward us in the dark. These fears are why Stephen King always has us. And then this happens: Out of the dark beyond the flickering reach of a campfire’s orange light came a lion, a mountain lion. She crept in toward the voices of a family camping. The lioness was coming for a 4-year-old girl.
At its pounce, and in what must have been the inexplicable horror of nightmares laughed away but nevertheless come true, the 4-year-old girl’s family leapt selflessly and perhaps reflexively at the cougar. Their voices were raging; they were in a total panic. And the cat dropped the little girl, leaving her almost unharmed, and vanished back into the night.
This family wasn’t in some savannah far from civilization. They were camping near Green Canyon Hot Springs east of Rexburg, Idaho. They were in the foothills on Aug. 12 doing something millions of Americans do, or dream of doing, every year. They were out under the stars enjoying this great land.
Perhaps, they should have been on their guard.
The family had actually seen the mountain lion, or cougar, earlier in the day. This is a red flag to those who know about these wild animals that hunt, catch and kill their food. A predator like a cougar that loses its fear of humans has become more dangerous. When cougars are weaned by their mothers, typically at about 18 months, they are suddenly on their own. They must then seek new territories and must hunt on their own. They must kill to eat or perish. This is why so many of the cougars that attack people are young and recently weaned.
But not knowing they’d encountered a dangerous and perhaps desperate animal, the little girl and her family stayed and, thankfully, were both brave and lucky. After the incident, the family took the girl to the Eastern Idaho Medical Center in Idaho Falls. Authorities say she is fine.
The Critical Role of the Hunter and His Hounds Now here’s where the unsung heroes showed. The authorities were contacted. A call went to nearby Idaho Fish and Game Senior Conservation Officer Andrew Sorensen. Sorensen knew just who to call. He called a local resident who keeps hounds for cougar hunting. He called Mike Pimentel. They made it to the campsite that night and put the hounds on the scent.
At 2 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 13, the hounds treed a young female mountain lion a few hundred yards from where the family had camped. A deputy from the Madison County Sheriff's office shot and killed the cougar.
Now, many probably think great, that’s a smart response. But hunters, especially those who keep hounds for bears and cougars, know something else. Several states have banned cougar hunting with hounds. This tough, old-school method of hunting mountain lions and bears is under siege by anti-hunters in many parts of the country. Often the public is blissfully unaware of what this portends. Chasing and treeing a cougar or bear is the only realistic way to target and kill specific dangerous, problem animals.
Without this wildlife management tool, we are almost defenseless because, when this hunting method is banned, we fast begin to lose the base of experienced people who have the dogs and the skills to tree and dispatch problem animals.
This is particularly relevant when you realize that black bear populations have been growing and spreading for decades. Also, mountain lions have been moving east. It is debatable how long it will take mountain lions—which are now in Michigan and in other Midwestern states—to continue all the way to the Atlantic and reclaim the habitat they once roamed and lost as America grew and spread west. But as cougars move east, more and more rural and suburban residents will have to acknowledge that we need hunters with hounds who can respond as quickly and effectively as Mike Pimentel did.