A friend suggested I read The Beast in the Garden by David Baron for my Halloween Countdown as a different type of horror novel. It’s a nonfiction about “The True Story of a Predator’s Deadly Return to Suburban America.” So it’s a real horror story, the kind that can be true for anyone. I run in the mornings, and the shorter the days, the longer that run is in the dark. This book, about mountain lions and suburbia clashing, makes me wonder about the danger of being by myself in cougar country during the time when the big cats are most active.
The mountain lion (aka puma or cougar) was largely eradicated in the United States—at least around even slightly populated areas—in the early 20th century. After all, farmers, ranchers, and hunters didn’t want their stock eaten by predators. Fast forward to the 1980s to Boulder, the mecca of nature lovers. Without wolves and lions to cull the population, deer exploded, wandering through Boulder, eating out of yards, and being tamed by residents. They became habituated to humans. Which seems sweet. But it’s not. Because laws allowing the killing of mountain lions changed in the mid-1900s, and the animals started to slowly repopulate and follow their main food source. With humans living in the wilderness of the Boulder mountains and the lions starting to move into the area, a clash is inevitable.
This book was fascinating. It’s a nonfiction, but it read like a novel. Plus, it brought forth an important issue, one that questions our modern enlightened notions of “preservation” and “conservation.” After all, the problems—1) The lions being killed causing the deer population to explode; 2) Humans moving into wild habitats; both of which result in 3) Deer and lions becoming habituated to humans and no longer seeing them as dangerous—are due to humans trying to conserve and preserve deer and then conserve and preserve lions, all without losing their close connection with wildlife. Something had to give. It should’ve been people. They should’ve not encouraged the deer to become a tame suburban herd, instead keeping them out of the city and away from humans which would keep the mountain lions away from humans. But they wanted it all…and suffered. Then there was mismanagement and poor decisions by Boulder City and the Colorado Wildlife Services. Tragedy is inevitable. If it wasn’t for a few people, Mike and Jim, it all would’ve been so much worse.
This book questions our idea of wilderness and our connection to nature. We may be part of the world, but we are also apart from it. That colors all our interactions with wildlife and the wild.