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Pet Cougar

Is there anything wrong is keeping a pet cougar? I ask this because I have just read an article on the extocicatz.com website, by an obviously caring and decent women (the video below is unconnected to this woman). She extols the benefits of keeping cougars as pets. Her relationship with her female cougar is very special she says. And I believe her absolutely. She lives with a 70 lb female cougar. This lady also has a tiger, Canadian Lynx, Caracal, and a few Servals. It is a kind of mini zoo. I don't know what the facilities are like. This lady endorses and promotes the relationship that can be formed between wildcat or domestic cat and person. I can empathize with that. It can be as special as she says. It is different to a person to person relationship but as good - no doubt about it. Often it is better, more reliable and more consistent because our cat companions are often more reliable and more consistent than human partners.


Well, if not that they are more predictable and don't argue back. And it would seem that with tamed wild cats the bond between cat and person can be stronger than that between domestic cat and person. I am not sure why that is; probably because the cat is more intelligent and active, which makes the relationship more intense. Wild cats or wild cat hybrids are considered more intelligent than pure domestic cats because the demands of survival in the wild are higher than when the cat is domesticated, which trains the brain to think better.

Her article is called "The Last Pet Cougar". The title refers to the gradual introduction of legislation prohibiting the keeping of exotic pets. In Florida, for example, there is talk of expanding the list of Class I wildlife to prohibiting the personal possession of cougars and cheetahs. Class I species, in Florida, (in relation to cats) are currently (src: myfwc.com):

  • Snow leopards (Panthera uncia)
  • Leopards (Panthera pardus)
  • Jaguars (Panthera onca)
  • Tigers (Panthera tigris)
  • Lions (Panthera leo)

People are very divided on the “ownership” of exotic cats by which I mean wild cats. It all depends on your view of the world and our place in it. There are pros and cons but it is nearly always the case that we measure the pros in reference to the benefits to us and rarely see cons in relation to wild cats generally. Our view can often be narrow and based on serving self interest.

If our ideal objective is to live in harmony on this planet with wildlife and to respect all wildlife in meeting that objective then keeping a pet cougar is not good, I suggest. This point of view is the pure animal lover point of view, some people call it the animal extremists point of view. This point of view allows animals to live naturally as they were intended in the kind of habitat and space that is suited to them without the interference of people other than to admire and observe. To meet that purest of objectives would require a complete change in attitude by billions of people.

Keeping a pet cougar does not meet this objective. The cougar is not adapted to living in a cage or confined spaces (and for a cougar, pretty much all we can provide equates to confinement). It is not meant to be domesticated. Although it could be argued that we domesticated the small wild cat 9,000 years ago so why not domesticate the big cats too! The life of a pet cougar is not only bad for the cougar (arguably) but is also bad for his or her fellow cougars that are left in the wild. This is because keeping pet cougars encourages the capture and sale of big cats. And lots of people in America search for “exotic big cats for sale”. Keeping a pet cougar encourages abuse of the cougar and is a selfish act. This statement is underpinned by how the lady (mentioned above) talks about her cougar. She refers to “ownership” of the cougar. The word is used without a second thought. This is a person who cares deeply about her cougar companion but she owns it.

It is perhaps wrong to be critical because a lot of good is being done in keeping a pet cougar in the way that she is, but at the bottom line it is wrong, in my view, and millions of Americans will disagree with that and not even understand it. But the concept of ownership of a wild cat indicates that the relationship is one sided, that the relationship is for our benefit and that there is a disregard for the bigger and wider issues; how to live in harmony with the wild cats.

Wild cats are, in a general sense, persecuted by people through human activity causing habitat loss and, in the case of the cougar by sport hunting. The gruesome sport hunting of cougar is still allowed in the USA and it is done with dogs! How barbaric is that? It is shocking in the 21st century that this is sanctioned by the state. It is an activity that is the ultimate expression of people serving their inner base instincts to the ultimate detriment of the cougar, whose population is declining and will continue to decline. The cougar is being used to destruction for the pleasure of a few people driven by prehistoric emotions. And it is big business. Suppliers feed on that basic emotion (to hunt, which was once about survival). Rarely do women hunt. It is the preserve of men who are playing out what is hard wired from eons gone by; to hunt and gather. Only we have moved on and they don’t realise it.

Generally speaking wild cats are gradually heading towards extinction despite the fact that the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (Red List) classifies the cougar as Least Concern (see below). We should, I argue be thinking of these things if we really love the cougar and want to live with one. In short if we want to live with a cougar because we like the idea of a close relationship with one, we should resist the temptation of adopting (buying) one and work on the bigger cause of protecting the cougar in the wild.

Buying a pet cougar encourages the business of trade in exotic cats. That can only be detrimental to wild cats. Keeping a pet cougar encourages trade in other wildlife. Keeping (no, “owing”) a pet cougar encourages less responsible people to do the same thing to the further detriment of the cougar (that they are keeping) and cougars generally (and themselves, I suspect). Keeping a pet cougar sends out a signal that it is OK to do this and therefore OK to ignore the wider issues. It is a process that does not turn back the gradual drift towards extinction of the wildcats but silently and almost invisibly encourages all that is wrong with our relationship with the wild cats. And it is the people, like this lady, who contribute to what they no doubt hate.

A final word about the concept propagated by the Red List people. They say the cougar is of Least Concern because “it is a widespread species”.

Least Concern (LC) is an IUCN category assigned to extant species or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, nor Near Threatened, nor (prior to 2001) Conservation Dependent. Many common species such as the Rock Pigeon, Human Human, Common Juniper, the Snail Kite and Sacred Kingfisher are assigned the Least Concern category.

Species cannot be assigned the Least Concern category unless they have had their population status evaluated. That is, adequate information is needed to make a direct, or indirect, assessment of its risk of extinction based on its distribution and/or population status…Wikipedia.

How can the cougar be of least concern when the Red List say that is has been destroyed from large tracts of habitat and its population is declining? I personally don’t get it. But I do know that this assessment encourages the business of sport hunting and I wonder if there something going on there. Is business affecting the classification of the cougar by the Red List people by providing inaccurate data on population size?

If we look at the cougar over a long period of time meaning look into the past for thousands of years and then project into the future for thousands of years we can only draw the conclusion that the cougar is endangered in respect of likelihood of extinction in the wild. Keeping a pet cougar furthers that process.


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Comments

Anonymous said…
You aren't considering the fact that cougars raised in "captivity" usually live up to two and a half times longer than cougars in the wild. Or the fact that in some species of exotic cats, the ones in captivity actually out number the ones in the wild because of selective breeding practices from people who privately own and care about the breed, who are dedicated to save the species from extinction. Also, consider this. You mentioned that the lady "owned" the cougar. Do you not own a dog? Or a domesticated cat? Or a bird? How is owning an "exotic" animal any different than owning a domesticated one? Use logic and reason when you look at this issue and you'll notice that, while there are plenty of bad owners and people who abuse and mistreat exotic animals, there are also many more who properly care for and further the survival of exotic cats. There are many more people in this country who abuse their "domesticated" dogs or cats, mistreating or starving them. Many more in fact than there are mistreating or abusing exotic animals. Even with that though, we aren't suggesting that no one in America should be allowed to own domesticated dogs just because a few morons can't be responsible enough to care for them properly. So why should we put any more spotlight on exotic animals? That's what regulations are put in place for, to ensure that the species is taken care of as best as possible.
Anonymous said…
Who's to say cougars (mountain lions, pumas, catamounts etc.) haven't ever been domesticated by the native indians?? 40,000 years of these cats and humans living together on the American continent, I'm sure it must have been done. They have been trained as hunting animals;there is one person I personally know who has a pet cougar, and he says the animal 's loyalty to him is absolute; by the way he doesn't see their relationship as owner/pet, but as companions; animal trainers rate these cats as just under cheetahs as easy to work with, as they are highly intelligent.
Michael Broad said…
Only one wild cat has been domesticated, the Near Eastern wildcat. The cougar is too big to be domesticated. It is unnatural. Also I think it emasculates the cougar to be domesticated. This cat should be in the wild and given the space to be in the wild. A lot of pet cougars are declawed. Does the person you know keep a declawed cougar? The fact that people declaw the cougar when a pet indicates that the relationship is a failure.
Anonymous said…
NO M, in fact we (a number of friends and I) consider declawing an atrocity; In Germany it's illegal, the deal is: if you can't handle a cougar, don't have a cougar.It also cripples the animal, and who would want a cougar that can't run up sheer cliffs and climb a tree with amazing grace. the reason I'm anonymous is because my friend is doing this illegally, he lives very remote, has built a den for his cat, so that if Wildife officials come nosing around, he just says she's a wild puma that happens to live there, he's trained her to go in her den until he calls her out.also the cat is free to roam wherever she wants (it's all uninhabited, land) but she really just follows him around. Yes, he does feed her.
Anonymous said…
As an addendum, the cougar in the video on this page has never been declawed either, they're at the Pahrump cat rescue center in Nevada. One thing domestication of pumas has done for their survival is that they're now not just limited to the American continent, but are in Europe, Australia etc., there's a circus in Russia that uses cougars in their act. of course they're not declawed, they then wouldn't be able to perform their feats of leaping and balancing on tracks. These cats are very adept at surviving. (if civilization were to come apart)
Michael Broad said…
I presume that you don't agree with the clawing cougars because there are pets. Good. A lot of Americans do declaw them for that reason however. It is part of the American culture. I still do not believe that cougars should be pets even if they are not declawed. The only place for an animal like a cougar is roaming the wild spaces, climbing the rock faces and simply being majestic. To domesticate the cougar is to take a part of the cat away from him for the pleasure of the human.

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