Not only do I love movies...I love felines of all sizes. The movie we watched tonight was fascinating, but it broke my heart. Felis concolor is the Latin name of the cougar, or cat of one color. Other names for this wild cat include puma, mountain lion, panther, painter, and catamount. I will use these names interchangeably throughout this blog.
Cougars have lived on this planet for over 40,000 years and once had the largest territory of any land mammal in the Western hemisphere. In North America from approximately 1918 to 1978, a bounty was paid for each dead cougar. "Civilized people" blamed the cougar for livestock deaths, missing children, and dead pets. Over 50,000 animals were killed, either for bounty or sport.
My research online at the Mountain Lion Foundation website shows that in the past 10 years 30,000 mountain lions have been killed by sports hunters in the U.S. alone. That is a 400% increase since the 1970s. Very sad.
Back to the documentary we saw tonight...
The documentary follows a five-year-old female cougar and her three kittens. The female cougar had been raised in captivity. She was chosen for a study by a mountain lion expert, Dr. Morris Hornocker, and a wildlife filmmaker, Jim Dutcher. They built a five-acre enclosure where they released the pregnant cougar. They fed the cougar a road-killed deer, but also let her hunt on her own. All the while, they filmed her.
The cougar was familiar enough with humans that she tried to "play" with the men making the documentary. They weren't sure if she was playing with or hunting them, so they were always on the alert.
Elusive creatures, cougars had not been photographed very much in the past. This movie claims to be the first to photograph a mother cougar with her kittens. Dr. Hornocker and his team felt fortunate to be the first to study this feline family.
Once the kittens are born, they have brown spots which help camouflage them from predators. With eyes closed for the first eight weeks, the mother moves them from den to den frequently to protect them.
Those kittens are the cutest things ever! There was no limit of "aww", "how cute", and "adorable" coming out of my mouth as I watched.
As the kittens grow, momma cougar feeds them her milk, then adds meat a couple of months later while they still suckle. After she kills the prey, she chews off hide or feathers to clean up the kill for the kittens to access the meat more easily. In order to preserve the kill for a few days, the momma cougar covers up the kill with dirt and twigs. The kittens follow her lead and help her cover up the kill.
The documentary keeps you informed about the cougar family as the kittens grow up. The kittens are raised completely wild as they learn to hunt from their mother. When the kittens are eight months of age, the mother cat is sent to a big cat sanctuary and the two eight-month-old "kittens" are taken to a remote wilderness area and released.
No tracking collars were put on the two young male pumas, so no follow-up is shown in the movie. I totally enjoyed the parts of the movie about the grace, speed and fluidity of a panther's chase. Beautiful footage of this wild cat family had me in awe. I learned that a puma's territory is 150 square miles and many pumas have the same territory for their entire lives.
Toward the end of the documentary, a mountain lion hunt in Idaho is shown. It is legal to hunt mountain lions in a number of states. This particular hunt is for sport and only male mountain lions can be hunted. A pick up truck follows fresh puma tracks in the snow. When the tracks lead off into the forest, a pack of hounds is released to track and tree the puma. The puma is a sitting duck. (Oops mixed metaphor.) Two shots ring out and we watch the puma fall from the tree. One more shot is fired at the puma after it hits the ground. I guess that was to make sure it was really dead. Yuck! Disturbing images after seeing the magnificent beauty of this animal.