A few weeks ago, I released a post containing general information about pumas (mountain lions, cougars, Puma concolor, etc.). As I wrote, pumas are highly adaptable animals; even occupying landscapes that have been altered by humans. While they typically do not harm people or livestock, conflicts do occur (Kertson, Spencer, & Grue, 2013). Sport hunting is often used as a way to reduce local puma densities, thereby limiting negative interactions with the species. But multiple studies conclude that excessive sport hunting can actually intensify human-puma conflicts.
Utilizing sport hunting to alleviate puma-related complaints might seem like common sense. However, a crucial part of science is questioning that which seems obvious. Several researchers recently examined levels of sport hunting and human-puma conflicts in Washington (Peebles, Wielgus, Maletzke, & Swanson, 2013) and British Columbia (Teichman, Cristescu, & Darimont, 2016), and their results were astounding.
The above authors unequivocally found that high levels of sport hunting (defined by Peebles et al. as 25% or more of the known puma population being killed by hunters) actually increased puma-related complaints. They each tested numerous factors, and found that sport hunting during the previous year was more strongly associated with puma-human conflicts than any other variable (Peebles, et al., 2014; Teichman et al., 2016). In a shocking example, Peebles et al. (2014) determined that the chances of livestock depredation and other complaints increased by 50% for each puma killed. But why?
The answer comes from the cats’ ecology. Male pumas have extensive home ranges in order to overlap with as many females as possible. In addition, subadult males are known to travel vast distances in search of their own territory (Hunter, 2015). In one case, a dispersing male traveled over 2,700 km (1,678 miles) from South Dakota to Connecticut (Hawley et al., 2016). This has important implications for sport hunting.
When enough adult male pumas are killed by humans, the species’ social structure breaks down. Territorial boundaries collapse, causing the surviving males’ home ranges to expand. The lack of mature males in an area also increases the proportion of subadult males (Maletzke et al., 2014). Not only are juvenile pumas more likely to occur near people (Kertson et al., 2013), but they also tend to be more conflict prone. As support for this claim, Teichman et al. (2016) found that the skulls of pumas killed through human-puma conflicts were smaller than those shot by sport hunters.
The expansion of male home ranges and the influx of subadults mean that sport hunting does not always reduce puma densities (Maletzke et al., 2014). The increased concentration of subadult males can also intensify levels of human-puma conflicts in a landscape (Peebles et al., 2014; Teichman et al., 2016). These findings indicate that indiscriminate hunting will not encourage human-puma coexistence. Instead, it might be more productive to target individual animals who are prone to conflict (Teichman et al., 2014). Another useful step would be to avoid killing too many adult male pumas in a given population (Maletzke et al., 2014). This will help stabilize puma social dynamics, which will benefit both the cats and local people.
Maletzke, B. T., Wielgus, R., Koehler, G. M., Swanson, M., Cooley, H., & Alldredge, J. R. (2014). Effects of hunting on cougar spatial organization. Ecology and Evolution, 4(11), 2178-2185. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.1089.
Peebles, K. A., Wielgus, R. B., Maletzke, B. T., & Swanson, M. E. (2014). Effects of remedial sport hunting on cougar complaints and livestock depredation. PLoS ONE, 8(11):e79713. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079713
Teichman, K. J., Cristescu, B., Darimont, C. T. (2016). Hunting as a management tool? Cougar-human conflict is positively related to trophy hunting. BMC Ecology, 16(44). http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12898-016-0098-4.