A recent blog post by Dr. Mark Elbroch of Panthera’s Puma Program brings up an important issue. As Dr. Elbroch states, there is an old and pervasive belief that large predators compete with human hunters for antlered deer and elk. This is one of the many factors that has led to the persecution of animals like pumas (mountain lions, cougars, Puma concolor, etc.). However, a 2017 study by Dr. Elbroch and his colleagues calls this belief into question.
In this study, as well as in his blog post, Dr. Elbroch explains that trophy hunters prefer to target large male elk and deer. These individuals have large antlers, and are therefore more impressive than the rest. There is a financial demand for large, antlered ungulates that encourages game agencies to remove any factor that might decrease their abundance –including large predators.
Dr. Elbroch and his colleagues sought to test the assertion that pumas take trophy opportunities away from human hunters. They fitted GPS collars on 25 pumas in Wyoming and Colorado, and tracked them to see how many antlered deer and elk they ate. The cats killed 578 elk and deer in Wyoming, whereas they brought down 339 elk and deer in Colorado (Elbroch, Feltner, & Quigley, 2017, p. 524).
Puma predation did not have a substantial impact on the abundance of large male deer and elk. In fact, they mostly targeted young animals: elk calves and mule deer fawns. Antlered mule deer and elk made up 4.8% and 6.6% of all deer and elk kills in Wyoming, respectively; whereas they constituted 6.8% and 1.7% of total deer and elk kills in Colorado.
Despite the above figures, pumas did appear to preferentially target adult male mule deer in both study areas. But this effect was tiny, and may have been an artifact of the study’s mathematics. Adult, male mule deer were so rare in both areas that even a handful of recorded kills might have made it seem like pumas were selectively hunting them.
As Dr. Elbroch explains, what all of this means is that pumas are not robbing human hunters of trophy opportunities. If deer and elk are declining, there must be other reasons. Time and resources would be better spent trying to determine why deer and elk are becoming less abundant, rather than persecuting pumas.
Both the recent study and Dr. Elbroch’s blog post contain much more information than I have presented here, and they are definitely worth your time. I have included links to both of them in the “Further Reading” section below, and I recommend you visit them.
Do Pumas Compete with Human Hunters? – blog post by Dr. Mark Elbroch
Elbroch, L. M., Feltner, J., & Quigley, H. (2017). Human-carnivore competition for antlered ungulates: Do pumas select for bulls and bucks? Wildlife Research, 44, 523-433. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WR17006.