Friday, August 5, 2011

Wild Come Back

Exactly why was last week's story of a mountain lion, who walked 1500 miles before getting killed in Connecticut, a sad story? Not sad in a deluge-of-tears way but sad in just-wish-it-ended-differently way.

All of the characteristics we admire were displayed by this rare beast. He was courageous, independent, adventurous, determined, and a survivor.

The last sighting of a mountain lion in Connecticut was in 1880, until an astonishing flurry of sightings a few weeks ago. Then in one swift, inglorious moment, the cougar was killed by an SUV on the drab Wilbur Cross Parkway. Bummer. 

It may also be sad because it is expected. The incident earned a collective shrug, “Of course. It's surprising he didn't die that way sooner, or get shot or something.” It actually is astonishing he made it that far.

People know, and accept, what has happened to America's wilds to make this great cat so rare to begin with. Little by little we pushed them out like so many great beasts.

Take some land here, cut down a forest here, build a strip mall there, we need more roads! and soon the animals have nowhere else to go. It didn’t help that we went on mountain lion killing sprees in the name of progress in the early years.

The lion was a loner too, very likely in search of a mate. We can all identify with that. How far have you gone for a mate?

But seriously, imagine a human being doing that. Walking 1500 miles looking for a mate and  finding none. Imagine what the world looks like to us in that scenario. That is how bleak it must have looked for a mountain lion.

For his pluck alone, this cougar seemed to deserve something much better after having come that far. For some conservationists who secretly, or not so secretly, long for a natural world the way it was before modern America came roaring through, the story leaves a bitter taste.

But we really can’t be too bothered. We have much bigger problems, environmental and otherwise, and that is just plain sad too. 

There is optimism in this story though. As David Baron pointed out in his playful New York Times op-ed about the mountain lion. The specific narrative may be sad but overall, America may be getting wilder. That is an immensely cheerful possibility.

Coupled with the extremely rare gray-hooded gull sighting off Coney Island recently, it is downright exciting. Let's hope this gull doesn't choke on a hot dog or get caught up in the Cyclone.

Let's also hope that the gull and mountain lion are not a sign of desperate wildlife wandering around an unrecognizable world, but rather a moment where wild in America has taken on an exciting new dimension.

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