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The Disneyfication of Wildlife in Reporting Has Got to Stop

Gabriella Hoffman
by Gabriella Hoffman Read Profile arrow_right_alt

The news media are increasingly bending rules on objectivity — especially when it comes to coverage of firearms, hunting, and wildlife.

Many chose to discredit a big game hunter who went hunting in Pakistan, though his hunt pumped back $110,000 into the government to protect the mountain goat there. Just recently, a Roll Call reporter used the wrong firearms nomenclature by suggesting a Glock handgun fires with the pull of a trigger. (Note: all guns fire when a trigger is pulled by a person.) The reporter later clarified saying a Glock doesn’t have a traditional safety.

With the recent story of the Colorado runner Travis Kauffman strangling a mountain lion cub to death with his bare hands, many were quick to point out he killed a poor, defenseless “kitten.” He should have just let this “poor, helpless kitten” maul him to death, right?

The reaction from city slickers who are largely removed from predatory big game wasn’t productive either:

Take NBC’s headline, for instance: It reads “Mountain lion killed by Colorado jogger was an orphaned kitten.”

Mountain Lion “Kittens” Aren’t Your Conventional Kittens

Wildlife biologists note mountain lions are “kittens” or cubs until they reach a year old, but leave their mothers when they reach two years of age. The use of “kitten” by major outlets framed Kauffman’s encounter with the cat as “unfair” and “cruel” against a poor, helpless kitten.

However, this kitty wasn’t so docile and innocent as reports have suggested.

The Trek accurately notes the problem with conflating mountain lion cubs with offspring of domestic cats:

Though many equate the term with a cute, cuddly house pet, this image is not consistent with the actual threat. Male mountain lions are classified as “kittens” up until one year.   When asked what percentage of people are making it out alive in Kauffman’s situation, Petersburg responded simply, “I think he is probably one of the rare ones.”

“These animals are ambush predators and are trained take quick and lethal actions whenever possible.  Though the mountain lion in this scenario was young, you’ll clearly see the damage that even a young lion can do when it attacks.  These lions are especially powerful,” said one of the representatives from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department of Natural Resources at Kauffman’s press conference.

“(Kauffman) did all the right things. He put his hands up, he yelled at it, and it still came after him,” says Petersburg.

The Mountain Lion Cub Wasn’t Starving or Orphaned

Having established the problem with painting a cougar cub as a docile kitten that’s helpless and defenseless, reporters suggested the cat who attacked Kauffman was malnourished and starving.

That couldn’t be more inaccurate. A necropsy performed on the young cub found it to be 24 pounds after it was heavily scavenged. It was said to be in the 35 to 40 pound category and had no reported diseases or conditions.

Here’s more:

According to the necropsy, “blood-staining of the scavenged tissues suggests the scavenging took place perimortem (meaning taking place at or around the time of death).”

The necropsy went on to say the “pattern of scavenging is reminiscent of feline predation.” One identifiable set of teeth marks in the dead animal matched the size of the dead animal’s teeth, likely indicating the dead lion was partially eaten by its siblings, which is a lion behavior.

Watch the full press conference featuring representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife below:

Mountain Lions Are Dangerous, Can Be Managed Without Wiping Out the Entire Species

“But the runner invaded the mountain lion’s turf!” animal rights advocates have decried.

Disney movies have desensitized the American public. If you watch National Geographic or BBC America, they showcase the reality that big game—including big cats—are ferocious and dangerous.

Humans and wildlife can co-exist in an increasingly developing world. Why is Travis Kauffman being denounced for surviving this attack? Is our society really this opposed to human life and human survival? Imagine being in his shoes. Wouldn’t you fend off aggression from a wild cat to survive or would you let it maul you to death?

Mountain lions are magnificent, beautiful creatures—but creatures with the potential to rip you to shreds. Observers can cautiously admire them and fear them. That doesn’t mean wishing death to all mountain lions, but managed control of individual cats that exhibit dangerous behavior.

Even Mountain Lion Foundation says in the event someone is attacked by a mountain lion, which is rare but likely, it’s best to fight back.

Should you encounter mountains in Colorado, here’s what CO Parks and Wildlife encourages:

People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years. Most of the attacks were by young lions, perhaps forced out to hunt on their own and not yet living in established areas. Young lions may key in on easy prey, like pets and small children.

And here are their recommendations for fending off mountain lions if a chance encounter happens:

Go in groups when you walk or hike in mountain lion country, and make plenty of noise to reduce your chances of surprising a lion. A sturdy walking stick is a good idea; it can be used to ward off a lion. Make sure children are close to you and within your sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.

Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly and firmly to it. Move slowly.

Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion’s instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.

Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you’re wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won’t panic and run.

If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.

Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. Remain standing or try to get back up!

The last two recommendations were employed by the Colorado runner. For some reason, readers are siding with the mountain lion over him. What about cheering on this guy’s survival? It’s a noble feat to survive a mountain lion attack. Though mountain lion attacks are rare, survival should be celebrated too.

It would be prudent for media to not frame coverage of wildlife stories — especially in the case of the mountain lion cub— to the tune of Disney. Instead, follow the lead of Nat Geo and BBC America.

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