Pumas are not Competing with Human Hunters for ‘Trophy’ Animals

Mountain Lion (aka Puma) by Jitze Couperus. CC BY 2.0

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.

It would better to focus on understanding why mule deer and elk are declining than to simply kill more pumas. Mule Deer 2 by A.Poulos(Iya). CC BY 2.0

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.

Further Reading:

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.

34 Thoughts

  1. Cats need to eat and we’re really doing studies about whether or not them fulfilling an obvious and biological need, inconveniences people who want a head to show off to their friends.

    What are Humans coming to?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The convenience of a certain subset of the US population has always come before other creatures’, and indeed other humans’, right to live. The saddest part is that things are a LOT better now than they used to be, at least in regards to large predators.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I cannot abide trophy hunters, l just feel that the world is a non stop killing ground for egos and greed. these days and people are not stopping in their tracks long enough to think of the untold damage they are doing to the only planet we currently have. Survival is one thing – but human predation for the sake of it, or for the statement ‘because we can’ isn’t a suitable answer any more.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is no sense in this world any more Josh, sadly. One day, just maybe, the animals will take back what is theirs. Mother nature is currently endeavouring to reclaim the lands bit by bit.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes very true, the same is happening here in the UK. Sea coast lines are getting smaller every year. When l lived on the Isle of Wight, the sea there reclaims a serious amount of scape every year. In the next hundred years, what we see today, will be a very different image tomorrow.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. No Josh, they wont, but sadly at the arte things are going, l fear they will never know any difference? Will our future only see holographic images of what was once our natural wildlife? sounds extreme, but the killing and constant destruction simple cannot continue.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Bob! I’ve shared the Secret Life of Mountain Lions video on here before, and ‘attended’ the webinar you speak of. I hadn’t realized Dr. Elbroch’s webinar had been recorded though; I’ll have to share that on here as well!

      I’ll be sure to check out your Facebook page.


  3. Sadly, here in Idaho the “game managers” at Idaho Fish and Game actively and relentlessly kill predators & enable hunters and trappers to do so in hopes of providing more ungulates for human hunters. They encourage pursuing mountain lions with hounds, bear baiting, and hunting and trapping of wolves. Anchored firmly in the past, with all the transgressions and extreme cruelty of monstrous practices embraced in past centuries, their vision is of the state as one big game farm. They serve no one but killers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many Americans are still trapped in the 17th and 18th centuries: viewing the frontier days as America’s golden age; overlooking the vast amounts of bloodshed and human right violations that resulted from the ignorance and entitlement of our ancestors. Certain states seem to encourage that perverse nostalgia more than others.


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