An Incredible Wolf Named Journey Becomes a Grandfather Against All Odds

Wolf advocates don’t often get to celebrate good news. But this week we do. First, we learned a litter of wolf pups were born this spring in Lassen National Forest. Then, we learned wolf pups were also caught on a trail cam in Oregon. Both litters are related to OR-7, the famous wolf known as Journey. He is a father for the fourth time and a grandfather for the first time. It is a modern family – and his incredible legacy continues.

A wolf pup born to OR-7’s son in Lassen National Forest, California. Photo: US Forest Service.

OR-7 is the father of the Rogue Pack and lives in Oregon’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, north of Ashland. He was nicknamed Journey by schoolchildren for his epic journey across mountain passes, rivers and at least one interstate highway. He was the first wolf in western Oregon since 1947 and became the first wolf in California since 1924. His presence led wildlife advocates to push for Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in California – and today, though far from perfect, California has the most sensible, science-based protections for gray wolves of any state.

OR-7’s children: the Rogue Pack. Photo: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

One of OR-7’s sons and his mate have settled in the Lassen region of California. That mate was recently captured, radio-collared and examined. From that capture, we learned she had given birth. Trail cams have now shown us these wolves, dubbed “the Lassen pair,” had four pups. They are the second set born in California in nearly a century.

Shasta Pack puppies playing in Siskiyou County, California.

The first, the Shasta Pack, made history when five black pups were born in Siskiyou County, California (north of Lassen and south of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon). The parents of the Shasta Pack were both descendants of the Imnaha Pack in Oregon, and are the siblings of OR-7.

Overview of Forest Service land, from the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon, where OR-7’s Rogue Pack family live, to the Siskiyou County, Calif. last sighting of OR-7’s siblings, the Shasta Pack, south to Lassen National Forest, where OR-7’s son and grandchild reside.

But the entire family has vanished. Mostly, the family has been unseen since November 2015 when there was a “probable” (though not provable) depredation of a calf who could have died from a variety of causes. That month, there were vocal threats of violent reprisals from locals. Except for one pup seen in Nevada in late 2016, there have been no sightings, no scat, and no tracks of them confirmed since the threats made against them.

Cattle tracks desecrate the landscape through Northeast Siskiyou County, near Klamath National Forest, where the Shasta Pack was last seen alive.

Many suspect scofflaw locals of employing the “Shoot, Shovel, Shut-up” approach, a popular strategy in these remote regions that allows people to violate the Endangered Species Act (for which they could otherwise face prison and penalties). We fear these killers have annihilated the entire wolf family – the first to make their home in California since 1924.

Something in me hopes we are simply wrong. The family is not radio-collared, and the price we pay for wildness is that we don’t always know where wolves are or how their story ends. In a way, it is a true sign of wildness.

The wolf who started it all : OR-7, collared. Photo: US Forest Service.

But Journey’s story is a legacy of wildness too and it begins in Northeast Oregon. Born in 2009 into the Imnaha Pack, he left his family at two years of age, presumably to find a mate. He had recently been collared by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracked his travels. He wandered south west across Oregon and south east into the wilderness of northernmost California. These regions are sparsely populated and huge swathes of the land belong to the public, overseen by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

Lassen wolf pups playing in the forest, caught on US Forest Service trail-cam.

OR-7’s story has inspired people around the world, including a new generation fascinated by wilderness and the concept of the wild. The fact that OR-7 was in such breathtakingly beautiful territories – which are also laced with cattle that graze and destroy those lands and put wildlife in danger –  inspired me to move to Siskiyou County in 2016, to the town of Mount Shasta (from which the Shasta Pack get their name).

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Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County

There I learned firsthand what it’s like to live in these rural mountains, where many (including livestock operators) coexist with wildlife as suburban people coexist with human neighbors. But I also learned about a dark side, where  some feel wildlife, like livestock, are here to serve our purposes. To them, when wild animals don’t suit human profits, it’s acceptable to destroy them – regardless of the ecological impact of doing so.

The mother wolf in Lassen, leading two of her three pups. Photo: US Forest Service.

But wolves are important. Scientifically, the return of wolves is good for local ecosystems. Wolf pups are a sign we are heading toward  recovery of a species virtually wiped out in the U.S.

Let’s not forget wolves are native wildlife, and cattle are an invasive nonnative species – their presence degrades the land and contributes enormously to global warming. And although some carry an irrational fear of wolves or concern about livestock-wildlife conflict, much of which is overblown, misunderstood, and rarer than portrayed, these conflicts can largely be avoided with responsible livestock management and training for livestock operators in nonlethal coexistence, which benefits our species, wild lands and canis lupus. It is proper livestock management, not wildlife management, with which we need to concern ourselves.

For me, it’s not just that he has left a legacy of wild wolves, or that his journey has defied all odds – at the age of 8 he is living a healthy life, despite being targeted by poachers – or even that his travels have helped reignite a movement for wolf protection in these parts.

My secret admiration also comes in the fact that he has eluded recapture. His collar batteries died in 2015, and while there is a valid reason for biologists to collar wolves with 5 pound telemetric radio collars, there are equally valid arguments not to. To me, he’s wild and free.  And that’s how he should be. Our interest in where he is matters less than his right to be left alone.

What has happened to the Shasta Pack? Here, a Weneha wolf pup howls. Photo: US Forest Service

We created an experiment when we reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone and the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho. Gray wolves are now found in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and beyond. A wolf named “Echo” even traveled so far as the Grand Canyon – 750 miles from where she was collared in Wyoming.

Echo traveled incredible distances to find a mate. She was killed in 2014 by a hunter who claimed he thought she was a coyote. That loophole in endangered species protections, called the McKittrick Policy, was used first after a man killed one of the most beloved wolves in Yellowstone. Two weeks ago, that disastrous loophole was closed. Still, the fight over the right of wolves to exist in their native lands is fraught and every forward step is a battle. But we take pleasure in each victory.


Journey, like Echo, has traveled incredible distances to find his home and make a family. He is perpetually in danger of being killed like his siblings and so many wolves before him. He is vulnerable to those who break the law, shun facts, and target endangered animals. Especially by those who would love to kill, rather than admire, a famous wolf.

OR-7’s legacy lives on in this Lassen pup, Journey’s grandchild. Photo: US Forest Service.

We reintroduced wolves with the vision that they would be wild and free – free to love, to play, to roam, to inhabit those wild spaces that once were theirs. Journey’s story makes me smile because he has done just that.

Watch this beautiful documentary online about OR-7 and learn more about his story.


Grizzly End for Endangered Bears in Montana


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Today is the last day to hunt black bears near Missoula, Montana. But it’s not just black bears who have been “harvested.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the death of a male grizzly who was killed in the Johnson Creek drainage by a hunter on May 16th, north of Bonner. Grizzly bears, unlike black bears, are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Violating the ESA is a federal crime.

The mistake, so easily avoidable, reminds us of how many times Gray wolves, also protected under the Endangered Species Act, have been illegally poached or allegedly accidentally killed by coyote hunters. A loophole in the interpretation of the ESA, called the McKittrick Policy, makes it difficult for prosecutors to do their job (because they have to prove intent in the mind of the hunter). But we must legally prosecute those who kill federally protected animals or the federal protections have no meaning.

Wolves are vulnerable to the “Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up” actions of hunters and ranchers who don’t feel like abiding by environmental protection laws. Grizzlies are harder to hide. Yet these magnificent bears are found in some of the wildest lands in the lower 48 — without many people to come looking for them. In this instance, the hunter who shot the grizzly reported his mistake, as he is obligated by law to do.

But when it comes to violating the ESA, the intention of the hunter should be irrelevant. If you pick up a gun with the intention of killing an animal, and there are similar-looking endangered animals in that territory, you better be damned sure who you’re shooting. Our laws have to have real teeth.

Although black bears and grizzlies (who are also called brown bears) can vary in color, the size difference — in bulk, teeth, claws, head and neck— don’t really compare. But the enormous hump in the shoulders of grizzly bears and the different profiles of their faces is perhaps most notable.


But even if it wasn’t — even if a trained bear hunter was as easily confused by the species as the average person might be — that only proves the point: We should not allow the hunting of a similar-looking species in the territory of endangered species. There is no rhyme or reason why anyone needs to hunt black bears or coyotes anymore than anyone needs to hunt wolves or grizzlies. If we want to protect grizzlies and wolves, we must protect coyotes and black bears. And that’s exactly why some want to remove ESA protections from Grizzlies and wolves, instead of protecting all four keystone predators and the ecosystems that benefit from their presence.

According to a report in Helena’s Independent Record, a local resident observed that “this spring bear hunt is crazy anyway. Lots of hunters can’t tell the difference between bears. This could be female with cubs, in which case they just killed two, three or four bears.”

And here’s the kicker: that bear was one of two endangered bears killed in Montana within a two week period. Two weeks later, a four year old bearwas found shot, killed, and hidden — dumped over a bridge into the Stillwater River. (State and federal officials are offering a reward for information about this case at 1–800-TIP-MONT).

But beyond the failure of the law to protect (and of hunters to distinguish between species) these endangered bears, a powerful lobby is working hard to delist — that is, to remove Endangered Species Act protections from Grizzlies.

In the West, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, politicians secure their privilege by openly attacking legal protections for endangered animals like bears and wolves — using these animals to jump up their career ladders and pad their pockets. A majority want these animals protected. But a powerful minority doesn’t and the politicians cater to those wallet-feeders. They do so in denial of science: Grizzlies have only about 2% of their native range and do not meet the population standards of a “recovered species.”

A Mother bear and her cubs. Photo: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Writer Christopher Ketcham notes in National Geographic that it is the Endangered Species Act (even with its flaws) that has kept grizzly bears and 200 other species from the brink of extinction. Despite catastrophic and mind-blowing, senseless political maneuvers — like the lifting of the ban on point-blank shooting wolves and hibernating bears in their dens in Alaska(can you imagine anything more cowardly?) even on wildlife refuges.

We must keep Endangered Species Act protections — and make them work. Congressional Conservatives are gearing up for a full-scale war on legal protections for wildlife and for wild lands. We must be ready and speak out on the importance of protecting grizzlies and other endangered species.

The sweet sound of song dogs

In Sonoma County, California a warm summer twilight can feel like magic. In rolling golden hills, set softly against a coastal valley, the light shimmers through the grasses with what can only be described as sweetness. Everyone feels it, and people wander outside without quite knowing why, just to feel that gentle electricity in the air.

Hidden among those windswept hills, those mammary bay laurel trees, sculpted round by the the fog rolling over the ridges and the rattle of dry anise stems in late summer, among the smell of chemise and sea salt rust on old pickup trucks and tumble-down barns, coyotes skip and play like memories of our faded youth made innocent and whole again.

When you are lucky, you might see a coyote. Your eyes might caress these bohemian hills and catch on an abandoned Quonset hut fading into halcyon fields, rusting farm equipment baring aquamarine metallic undersides from fog long come and gone through its bones, old oak trees sighing through picnics and lovers’ quarrels, soaring bi-planes overhead rising and falling like the red-tailed hawks who cross the valley floor, searching amongst the mustard meadows in spring, as the earthy smell of dairy pastures carry the work of day into dusk, and the awakening of streetlights flickering amongst the song of the crickets, as night falls and a coyote cries.
Photo: Sean Fitzgerald Photography
I remember one such night, the Cowboy and I bouncing down the ranch lane in his f350 diesel. Something about the sound of a 350 rumbling along a country road has always signaled maleness, in a way that I like. His muscular, lumbering 6’4″ 240 lb frame, a hard-working, cut physique, somehow made him one with his truck, elevated, headache-rack, masculinized to the extreme. He stepped out every 100 yards or so to throw bales of hay mix over the fence to feed his cows. He switched his engine off unexpectedly and I noticed his  taut frame, generally rigid with the weight of anger and stress and hard work, now relaxed into his seat. “Look,” he said  nodding up the hill his family owned for generations and generations – all the way back, even before they built the university or the town. I saw his eyes twinkle and I followed his gaze.
From the scrub, several hundred yards up the hill, two coyote pups wrestled gently with each other, without any awareness or concern of being watched. No fear of hunters, although that is certainly what the Cowboy was, no fear of predators, no concern with anything but play, no different from the Cowboy’s dog Red, waiting up at the ranch to be set free from his cage. In silence, we watched as the pups … skipped… down the hill. There really is no other way of describing it. Their sheer joy in being alive was palpable, in that way that your heart melts peeking in to glance at the innocence of your happy children tucked into their beds, dreaming, and trusting their safety to you.
The Cowboy had always held his tongue when I told him how I felt about coyotes. He didn’t talk about his hunting trips and I didn’t ask. We had a very different view of ecosystems, of animals and of people, and a different understanding of what we meant when we each said we aspired to “live off the land.” But in that moment, he forgot himself. I didn’t dare break that mood with conversation. And I couldn’t tell if I enjoyed more the bliss of the pups rolling down the hill or watching someone’s heart finally get it.
Coyotes bring spiritual medicine and wild teachings we all might open ourselves to. Rather than fear or hate what is wild we must consider how we are excluding the wild from our lives – and how in doing so we demand domesticity in all things; domesticity or death.

When we view the world with hardness to get through our days, we are hard with ourselves and others. Allowing ourselves to practice gratitude for the smaller things, the vulnerable and fragile connections in nature, we allow our own vulnerability to be okay. We stop and still our outer world and listen to our inner world, and smile at song dogs. If only we would let this, and not fear, guide us more often.

License to Kill: Mountain Lions and Values in a Disappearing Wild

This week we thought it was sure death for P-45, a four year old male mountain lion who many conservationists see as a Hail-Mary pass for the threatened ecosystems and limited gene pool of lions in the Santa Monica mountains — who face possible extinction in the near future. So why is this virile and valuable young mountain lion a hero for some and a demon put on death row by others?

It really comes down to values. Not right or wrong, not good or bad, not evil or loving, and neither side is simple. But it is about values. Conservationists welcome the much-needed biodiversity brought by P-45 to a vulnerable wild population. Some ranchers recoil from the realities that living amidst mountains and mountain lions brings.

P-32 as a kitten (Photo: NPS)

In the past year, P-45 is suspected to have killed ranched animals — from llamas to alpacas to a goat to a mini-horse. And that is why California Fish & Wildlife issued a depredation permit to rancher Victoria Vaughn-Perling, who had 10 days to kill the lion within 10 miles of the livestock kills (her 10 alpacas). Yet after massive national uproar, she has claimed she will not kill the lion.

Ms. Vaughn-Perling and other neighboring ranchers portray themselves as living in fear, for themselves and for their animals; as if under siege from the wild around them. Earlier this week, Vaughn-Perling said she would prefer to capture and relocate the lion, but would kill him if not allowed to relocate him. Thankfully, wildlife officials stepped in to negotiate with her – a move that wouldn’t happen in other locations, believe me.

Of course, his removal from this ecosystem would be just as problematic and reveals the fundamental system of values. There are only two other breeding-age males in the 10-15 lions living in the Santa Monica mountains, and P-45 is an important part of that ecosystem. Many do not understand or value the need for wild ecosystems, and see them as merely a nuisance that gets in the way of a civilized life. But we cannot have civilization without thriving wild habitats.

Cougar mom P-19 (Photo: NPS)

The National Park Service, who radio-collared and observed P-45 to study mountain lion behavior — science, learning, and those pesky values again — have stated that the behavior of P-45 is natural, and killing him does not solve the “problem.” Here is a major crux of the wildlife-livestock “conflict,” which is really a wildlife-rancher conflict:

“In a typical natural setting, animals flee from a mountain lion attack, but if animals are stuck in an unsecured pen, a mountain lion’s response can be to prey upon all available animals.” — National Park Service spokesperson Kate Kuykendall.

Once again, it comes down to values: choosing the value of coexisting or the value of dominance. We might sympathize with ranchers, as personified by Vaughn-Perling and her neighbors – just trying to make a living and get by, and really just wanting these wild lions away from them. They aren’t necessarily, that we know of, the foaming at the mouth wolf-haters or coyote-killers, who participate in bloodbaths and just like killing. Rather, they are okay with these animals being somewhere, just not anywhere near them.

Several problems immediately come to mind, however:

  • There is increasingly less wild for these animals to go, because semi-rural, urban, and suburban sprawl into the foothills – where mountain lions live – is pushing lions to the brink and leaving little options.
  • Not only have humans built ranches and subdivisions in the natural and dwindling territories of wild animals like lions and coyotes and wolves – but some of them refuse to take proper precautions that would allow coexistence.
  • Animals are not disposable and we are not God. Ecosystems are intricate fabrics weaved by the relationships of their members. We must learn that keystone species, predators, are fundamental to trophic cascade – to the health of the entire rest of the inner workings of ecosystems. Without them, the thread comes loose.


P-19 curious about this camera (Photo: NPS)

For example, it may stun you to know that the National Wildlife Federation has offered to buy guard dogs for some of these ranchers, instead of killing vital mountain lions. Wouldn’t it be fair to assume that if one moves into wild territory, and forces livestock into these areas, one might have a moral responsibility, for oneself, for livestock, for wild neighbors, to make suitable protective arrangements for all involved?

Well that is just what some of the ranchers in this area have done. Vaughn-Perling, allegedly had barbed-wire fencing around her alpacas and security cameras. But anyone who lives amidst wildlife knows that is a gesture, but not the proper precaution. This  might deter a hiker or passerby, but does nothing in the way of deterrence that shows any understanding of mountain lions.

As I have mentioned before, proper fencing (depending on the type of predator), riders, guard dogs, fladry, lights, and sounds, among other nonlethal tactics (like hosting workshops for the ranching community on these methods) are successful and minimizing wildlife-human-livestock conflicts. Yet our legal system remains with the Wild West, where we colonize nature and natives, rather than even attempt to coexist — when a predator like a mountain lion is seen as a threat to a rancher who hasn’t even made minimal efforts to avoid the situation, they can easily apply for a permit to kill the lion (killing a lion without a permit can land you in jail and/or slapped with a $10,000 fine). With a coyote? They don’t even need a permit.

Wildlife biologists say these kittens (P-48 and P-49) are likely the offspring of P-45 (Photo: NPS).

Honorably, the owner of the mini-horse that was attacked, and the owners of the winery where the llamas were attacked, did not seek a depredation permit, unlike Vaughn-Perling and others. In an interview with the Los Angeles Timesranch manager Dakota Semler said “The lions were here first, and we plan to stay… We realize the risks involved, but we also appreciate that lions are wild animals that also live here. So we’re going to learn to live and work with them around.” These ranchers were certainly as horrified by anyone else upon finding their ranched animals attacked and killed. But their response was not to seek a killing permit, but to erect lion-proof fencing.

Let us not surrender to the assumption that most people (including ranchers) want mountain lions gone either. When I lived in the Bay Area, a mountain lion mother and her three cubs were caught on a webcam sipping water in a creek on a relatively popular hiking trail. Overwhelmingly, people were delighted and awed, and, while slightly more cautious, simply excited. Similarly, in the wilderness where I live in Northern California, a mountain lion was shot and killed after it was seen in a neighborhood. The majority of people I ask about the incident refuse to speak about it, because they are deeply angered and saddened by the unnecessary killing of this magnificent, shy, mysterious animal.

So why this range of views? Most of us don’t really want to live in a world without lions, without wildlife, and without places for wildlife to thrive – places untrammeled by humans, spaces that are free from human domination.


Values and psychological motivations should be considered more in this moral dilemma. For when a rancher encounters the violence of their livestock slaughtered, one wonders who to blame. Some people come to the view that they had a role in this situation and do what they can to prevent it from recurring, and adjust to it, like Dakota Semler. Others, not wanting to blame themselves, blame the wild animal and create a culture of fear. But mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, foxes and bears are not a mafia – they are not sitting around a card table planning their attacks and revenge while puffing on Cuban cigars. It’s not personal, it’s business. Wildlife are presented with confined, unprotected livestock, that they are trained to otherwise hunt, and they simply go out to eat. Our values must be to coexist with our neighbors, knowing their lifestyle patterns.

The fur-farmer, Vaughn-Perling, perhaps under public pressure, but also with a great deal of coaxing from California Fish & Wildlife, has agreed to take the protective measures she should have in the first place, rather than kill this valuable lion. This should be the foundation of anyone who is already profiting from using animals and their bodies. But there is a fundamental stumbling block in the value system that at its core sees animals, whether livestock or wildlife, as disposable and quite secondary to human profit margins.

P-35, a female lion (Photo: NPS)

Mountain lions are assailed by human contact in a variety of forms, and not just from depredation killing, but from vehicle accidents and from ingesting rat poison. 13 of 14 mountain lions in this region, studied by the National Park Service, tested positive for ingested rat poison. Another major factor threatening these animals is habitat loss.

So a useful question to ask – and for you to consider – is, if most people want mountain lions and other wild predators to survive, if the wildlife officials want them to thrive, if some ranchers are willing to take precautionary measures, if some ranchers refuse to seek depredation permits, if organizations are willing to pay to provide the minimal protections the ranchers refuse to provide for themselves, and if mountain lions are so beloved that the life of an individual lion, like P-45, is the locus of media attention, of petitions aimed at saving his life, of public uproar… why is it that the ranchers who were irresponsible in the first place are the ones we listen to?

Why is it that the livestock industry has such a dominating reign over the law? Why does the livestock industry interests, particularly the ones who can’t coexist, trump the values of everyone else and our right to wildlife and wilderness? Why does these negligent industry operators get the power to impact which inmates are placed on death row?


  • Support Save L.A. Cougars and their fundraising to build a wildlife crossing over the 101.
  • Support the Mountain Lion Foundation.
  • Contact California Fish & Wildlife and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and thank them and encourage them to continue supporting nonlethal measures and working with local ranchers to coexist with wildlife.
  • Read this.
  • Sign the petition to protect P-45.


Conservation Disaster: Coyote Killing Contests in Wolf Country

This weekend, a coyote killing contest — that is, a contest to see which human can kill the most coyotes — will be held on public lands in Lake County, Oregon — wilderness areas (national forest and BLM land) that the public pays for, including those people who happen to love wilderness and wildlife. Over a bloodbath of a weekend, hunters compete to kill as many coyotes as they can. Raise your hand if that sounds like sensible conservation. But wait, it gets better.


1). Biology. Let’s pretend for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Killing mass amounts of coyotes in one fell swoop results in female coyotes naturally, biologically, producing more pups and more frequently. It is a proven fact that our current methods of killing coyotes in contests and using Wildlife Services results in, wait for it.. MORE COYOTES. Furthermore, coyotes – as a keystone species – are fundamental to their ecosystems (as are wolves). Coyotes control overpopulation of other wildlife like rodents, rabbits, deer and geese. These songdogs (as traditionally known by natives) also have benefit bird populations by preying on small mammals who prey on birds or eggs.

2). Populations. Again, let’s pretend for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Slaughtering a region’s worth of coyotes has proven to result in one thing, MORE COYOTESAnd not just because they reproduce more, but because new coyotes move in from neighboring territories to replace the old coyotes.

3). Wolves. Again, allowing ourselves to pretend that coyote populations are a problem, let’s understand that wolves — who are endangered — are in this same wild territory. Hunters have historically used the “I thought it was a coyote” excuse to illegally poach wolves. Hunters have used this excuse even though 35lb dog-sized coyotes are distinguishable from 120lb wolves, from a distance. A loophole known as the McKittrick policy has allowed poachers to get off scot-free from violating the federal Endangered Species Act when they slaughter wolves. As if the responsibility for knowing which animal is which doesn’t reside with the human pointing a gun at it. This disastrous loophole is being challenged and will continue to be in courts of law by brave conservationists. And that brings us to:

4). The Law.

“This contest is unethical, cruel and risks violating federal law,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Wolves are fully federally protected throughout the entirety of Lake County, so federal wildlife- and land-management officials have a duty to do everything in their power to protect them.”

How can it be legal to allow irresponsible killers to recklessly slaughter animals who appear very similar to federally protected animals who live in that region, and to kill them in a manner that is proven, over and over not to work at controlling their population?

5). Effective, Efficient, Ecological, Humane Predator Control Exists Already. Okay, finally we’ve made it to this point.Let’s stop pretending for a moment that coyote populations are a problem. Let’s admit that human populations are the problem. Humans have moved into coyote territory and built communities, ranches, and other forms of urban development. As we eradicated the humans living on the land (natives) in the past, we still continue to think that exterminating any form of wildlife that we perceive as impacting our development is our right, is effective, is moral, is sound practice.


But nonlethal predator control – that is protecting human populations, livestock, and communities from wildlife – is best done by coexisting with wildlife. It has proven to be more effective at controlling population size (for the reasons stated above, coyote populations only reproduce exponentially when their individual members are killed), more economically efficient (particularly in the reduction of public funds allocated to ineffective wildlife ‘management’), more ethical (by coexisting – and ethical hunting  by the way is hunting that is subsistence hunting, that is cautious, careful, humane, takes only what will be eaten and respects and values the integrity of the animal: coyote killing contests as a race to kill as many animals as possible is clearly inhumane and reprehensible for its careless treatment of wildlife) and clearly safer for other wildlife (and humans).

Nonlethal predator control works. Using at least two methods: fences, cleaning up bone sites, concentrating livestock into certain areas, and using deterrents like guard dogs, guard llamas, riders, sound monitors, and visual deterrents like flashing lights and fladry, has proven to be more effective, ethical, and cost efficient than any other method of predator control.

So why wouldn’t these methods be used? Some ranchers don’t know about them. That’s why it is important to spread the word and share resources as much as possible. But other situations are not because of a lack of knowledge, but something else… including seedy corrupt ol’ boy links between the livestock industry, local politicians and Wildlife Services.

But what about killing contests? Last year, California banned killing contests for prizes, leading the way as that state often does in wildlife protections. Here’s the thing about coyote killing contests — I think the people who participate in them don’t really care if it works. They just like killing. Think about that.

They just like killing.


Many hunters, who enjoy the sport of hunting and their traditions, rituals, and accomplishments (like feeding their families, being outdoors, the mental and physical challenge, reawakening their instincts) find killing contests totally reprehensible.

So this isn’t about people who enjoy hunting, who may respect the animals they hunt. This is about people who enjoy the act of killing – not for food and subsistence. They just like killing. I know people who participate in these contests, and they aren’t hunters, they’re psychotic. They hate coyotes for being coyotes. They like killing.

And they really like killing coyotes, who are unfairly demonized with a voracity that is hard to understand. In states like Oregon and California, coyotes can be killed with almost no legal limit. No bag limit, no hunting/killing season, no concern with the method of killing, and no concern with the effect on ecosystems of the local populations of coyotes OR the habitats and ecosystems who literally depend on coyotes to thrive.

We need predators. Nature needs predators – and we need nature, not just aesthetically, but for our very survival. The real conflict is threefold a) some people don’t understand that killing contests don’t work b) some people don’t care and just like killing c) some people believe they have a greater right to their pleasure than others do to life and to enjoying wildlife: that is to say, some people feel that they should kill the animals (like coyotes and wolves) who are killing the animals (like deer) that the hunters want to kill or the animals (like cattle and sheep) that ranchers want to sell us as food. This system is broken.

When did we stop valuing the ability of the wild to regulate itself?

I was so proud of one of my best friends last year when she used the legal system to shut down a killing contest in Harney County, Oregon. And I’m proud of the work we do at the Center for Biological Diversity to take on Wildlife Services, a whole other can of worms when it comes to killing coyotes and endangering wolves (ask your Board of Supervisors if your public dollars are going to employ this rogue agency — whose motto is “shoot, shovel and shut up” — and you’ll likely be horrified to find out that you are paying for inhumane slaughter of wildlife when better methods exist). But we need to do more.

We need:

  • greater protections for coyotes – (read, any protections for coyotes)
  • a federal or state by state ban on predator killing contests.
  • federal agencies to truly protect animals entrusted to their care, as it is these agencies who are allowing killing contests on federal/public lands.
  • an information campaign, like the work Project Coyote and so many others are doing, to cross the aisle and talk to ranchers who want to do the right thing by implementing nonlethal methods and finding community support to help them.
  • to close the McKittrick loophole down, once and for all.

Most of all, we need to learn to coexist with the wild.

Hope, Hate and Anarchy after the Election



Hope is so scarce these days – yet it is the only thing that can save and redeem us – for it determines what we do with the love in our hearts

The following was written on Wednesday, November 9th, after learning the results of the presidential election, and Republican control of the House, Senate, Executive and Legislative branches. But most of all, as I watched the ugly demon of hatred, racism, cruelty, fear of difference and darkness rear its head across the nation, finally revealing itself and having a voice.

I am surprised by the emotions flooding through me today. Grief is one – I cannot stop the wall of tears moving through me.

I cry not because one side lost and another won – for neither talking head had my vote.

I cry not just for the onslaught of increased hateful anti intellectual ignorant inhumane destructive policies that have already begun.

I cry not just for the girls who ask their mothers and fathers why the nation elected a sexual predator.

Nor do I cry only because this outrageous outcome is in large part a response to the eight years we’ve had a black president and this is how much African Americans (and Muslims and Mexicans) are HATED – and if we don’t admit that we are lying to ourselves.

Nor do I cry only for those children who are different than what is admired by the narcissist we have elected, or the policies that will be enacted by the salivating trifecta of neoconservative power in the executive, legislative and judicial branches – those children who are immigrants, who suffer PTSD or mental or health issues, whose skin is any shade other than white, whose gender and sexuality and ethnicity and language and culture are hated – because these children will revolt. They have already begun as demonstrations stop traffic and students across the nation protest. They are not the ones who created this situation.

And I don’t cry only that so many millions thought, that this valid hateful agenda was desirable, nor for the billions who maybe impacted by decisions made for our military forces and economic devastation and environmental devastation (having already attacked science and the EPA) and any notion of sustainability and security. Nor for the women who thought they would have made history today with the first female president, and protect rights to their bodies (despite nominating a war monger for that role).

I cry for all these reasons – and so do you – but here is the real reason we feel traumatized:

Today we have seen the face of hate.

Why does this feel terrible? Because finally we are forced to admit and to see this hatred with no ability to hide our eyes or believe it’s only a few whose hearts are filled with hatred. We’ve looked into the face of hate.

Why do we hurt? Because we’ve elected into office those who would lynch our friends. We’ve come face to face with the fact that nearly half this country is teetering on being a lynch mob.

Yesterday I was numb: the presidential election, as so many felt, was a farce, and I hope all sides can empathize that intelligent, loving people felt that way, not “idiots” who voted their conscience or abstained from the whole game. I had more faith in humanity than I should have. I cry because I did not support Hillary (not from hate) but I did not think this turn of events would happen, not just in the presidential election, but the whole thing, the KKK demonstrating in the streets, and 1500 high school children walking out of class in protest of the electiotumblr_nrok2mmy311u1zctvo1_1280n results.

I cry because I have become un-numb. My friend, the writer Christopher Ketcham, wrote this piece, “Anarchists for Trump” a few months ago, indicating that this turn events is what we need to wake us up. Chris may be right, as he often is. As Edward Abbey once wrote, “anarchy is democracy taken seriously.”

Maybe now we will get off our asses, and eradicate this “business as usual” brainwashing that tells us to be apathetic and vote for the lesser of two evils, that this is just how things are and always will be.


We should pay more attention to the hearts of children who can’t believe adults nominated a bully to lead us.

Maybe we need a little more wild in our creativity, maybe it’s time for a little anarchy – the death of the national ego – until we truly recognize universal consciousness in a radical awakening of what is and what can be. First, we have to stop accepting the reality spoon fed to us by those driven by greed.

Harambe: Captivity is the Real Reason Behind the Gorilla’s Death

The unjust death of a charismatic male king named Harambe has gripped our nation’s attention (like Cecil the Lion last year). A four year old boy entered the only home Harambe, a mountain gorilla, has ever known, and to protect the child, Harambe was shot and killed. As we reflect on our relationships to wildlife, our arguments have taken on predictably digestible sound-bite qualities (encouraged by CNN’s obsessive exploitation of this human drama):

  • Was the Cincinnati Zoo right to shoot this gorilla, to protect the four year old boy who fell into the gorilla exhibit?
  • Was Harambe, caught on a video that quickly went viral, protective or menacing?
  • Should the parents of the young boy be held accountable in some way?
  • Is the public/media attention to the parents’ unusual and/or racist?
  • Is the zoo at fault for making a flimsy exhibit that children can fall/climb into?
  • What can be done to prevent this next time?

Few people, from my eyes, are seeing the real problem that led to this tragedy — although I’m delighted to see it covered in Scientific Americanmost people are still stuck on CNN. Oh, there have been arguments from experts — ex zookeepers have assessed Harambe’s posturing as threatening, while world renowned primatologists like Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal see potentially protective behavior toward the child (while others have turned to celebrity non-experts like Jack Hanna) in the Harambe video. The zoo, through director Thane Maynard, defends the decision to shoot Harambe rather than use tranquilizers. Harambe’s former zookeeper Jerry Stone says Harambe was never aggressive to humans, but the gorillas in Harambe’s family will be fine after his death.

Harambe as an infant

But does it matter?

Does it matter if we punish parents? Legally, there is an interesting theory to be brought by holding humans responsible for human-animal conflicts that result in the death of an endangered animal. But does the blame rest with the parents or the zoo or something else…? (and by the way, anyone who pretends they haven’t ever lost sight of their four year old temporarily is probably being a little dishonest).

Is the zoo legally accountable for building a proper enclosure that ensures reasonable safety, both for the animals and for the spectators? Certainly the zoo is under legal obligation to protect human spectators from wildlife and to protect wildlife from humans. And they should be held legally accountable for not adequately protecting Harambe from an encounter like this. But does this get at the larger issue – the issue that time and again results in either human or nonhuman animal death in these situations?

Does it matter if Harambe was being protective or threatening? As Goodall noted, a toddler fell into a gorilla exhibit at Illinois’ Brookfield in 1996 and the female gorilla, Binta Jua, in that exhibit protected him and handed him to paramedics. Harambe weighed more than 400lbs. Silverback male gorillas are unimaginably strong, and the only way we can convey that strength, apparently, is to say Harambe had the strength of ten men. In one instant, Harambe could have thrashed the child, dragged him through the water again, cracked him like a pistachio with a flick of his hand, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Of course, he could have held him like a child, traded him for food, or decided to take a nap. But no amount of tranquilizer would have slowed him immediately. A decision was made.

But that decision was made long ago, the moment the zoo was created and captive gorillas were bred for the profit of the zoo, the delight of human spectators, and the alleged conservation of an endangered species. We MUST recognize that in a perceived human-animal conflict with even a possibility of human fatality, all measures, including lethal, will be taken immediately. This is true in almost any situation, and this is true in any situation of capitivity. It is certainly true in zoos, theme parks, and even national parks.

And that is why people say “captivity kills.”

If we fail to realize or change this, it will simply continue to happen. Wildlife will be killed, trainers will be killed, and spectators may also be killed. That is the cost of captivity.

As Steven Wise argues, at zoos parents will neglect their children and  inexperienced conflict response teams will pull the trigger (and people will underestimate the intelligence and sensitivity of apes in response). But,

“The major problem is that the Cincinnati Zoo is legally permitted to treat such extraordinarily cognitively complex and gentle animals as slaves in order to sell tickets to gawkers, and that Harambe, like every other nonhuman animal, was a legal “thing” that lacked the capacity for any legal rights, even the fundamental rights to his life and liberty.”

So it is disappointing to see people arguing over whether or not he should have been shot, or who is to blame for the child being in the exhibit. Who is to blame for Harambe being in the exhibit? That blame, to a degree, falls upon all of our shoulders.

Harambe was a 17-year old lowland mountain gorilla, born and raised in the zoo’s captive breeding program for western lowland gorillas, who are endangered. Silverback male gorillas are ferociously, endearingly protective of their families. They are vegetarian, they are incredibly intelligent, funny, strong and fascinating. We share almost all of our genetic with gorillas, as we do with chimpanzees. Learn more about gorillas here.

But What About Conservation?

If you want to conserve endangered wildlife, the very last thing you should do is support zoos. Stop buying any product with palm oil. Focus attention (and urge others, including our political leadership) to spend more attention on African nations, and help encourage tourism to these nations, help fight poaching, help protect natural habitats and support wildlife preserves, and spread the message of education through documentaries and film. Not zoos. You cannot truly make a claim about wanting to protect an endangered lowland gorilla while doing absolutely nothing to help protect their native, natural habitat.

At what cost are we conserving a species if it means breeding for profit and holding them captive in unnatural, dangerous, exposed cages on constant display? (can you hear the constant noise captured on the Harambe video even before the manic screaming begins?) These wild animals are totally at the mercy of human decisions, actions, and mood for everything from who they have as friends and family members to daily food. Otherwise, it’s like saying you want to protect your grandmother’s safety by putting her in San Quentin and letting your friends burn her home to the ground.

WILD western lowland mountain gorilla, from

But I love Animals and Want My Children to See Them

We all want to be close to the wild – and touch the wild within. When we see these magnificent animals in zoos we are filled with awe and we want to be able to see them and for others to see them. That is what keeps zoos alive, and it is an understandable desire. The problem is the idea that we deserve to see exotic wildlife in zoos is truly entitled. I grew up in California. If I don’t travel to Central Africa in my lifetime to see a gorilla in the wild, then that’s the way it goes. That doesn’t mean the San Francisco zoo should breed gorillas so I too can encounter gorilla existence. Intelligent primates like chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas suffer so much many are essentially brain damaged by the conditions of their confinement. I wouldn’t want my child to see that, nor would I support that financially (nor would I blame the zookeepers), nor would I see that as in any way supporting and protecting the species by having these poor animals confined in prison.

Make no mistake: a wild animal in captive conditions is no more representative of his species than a human locked in prison. What would it teach our child about humanity and human experience to visit a prison inmate? Nothing I want my child to know, and I don’t want my children to see animals imprisoned for our profit and entertainment.

What We Must Learn from Blackfish

The 2013 documentary Blackfish also rocked the nation, drawing attention to the plight of animals in captivity. The film investigates the captivity of an orca named Tilikum whose conditions of captivity at SeaWorld lead to the death of several humans, including trainer Dawn Brancheau. What shocks people who watch this film is the dark world of suffering endured by Tilikum and the very real hazards of working with wild animals, all hidden in the bright display of whale shows at SeaWorld.

We don’t realize how awful it is to imprison wildlife until we finally do. We take for granted that wildlife belong in theme parks and in zoos, and that it is our right to see them displayed. That they have good lives, that they aren’t suffering, that they like their unnatural conditions which are often legally inadequate and psychologically harmful, limited space enclosures, forced interactions with non family members or total isolation, and constant display for gawking and sometimes aggressive human beings.

As Mark Bekoff writes in Scientific American, 

“Being a zoo-ed animal, Harmabe lost all of his freedoms – the freedoms to make choices about how he was to live, what he would eat, when he would sleep and go to the bathroom, where he would roam, and if he were to become a father.”

Remember Tatiana, the female Siberian tiger at the San Francisco zoo who was tormented by teenage boys until she leapt out of her enclosure, mauled them, and was killed by the San Francisco police? I do. And I remember seeing similar drunken human beings tormenting a tiger at a zoo near my home in Indiana. We’ve all seen videos with people mocking distressed animals who have no escape, no escape, from taunting. We’ve all been in situations that are crowded, noisy, unnatural, dangerous, stressful – and we can escape. Is it right to imprison wild animals so that their entire well-being is at our mercy? Have we conserved a species if they can only exist in prison with our “help”?

Western Lowland Gorilla What We Should Really Be Talking About

It is very easy to continue business as usual, without questioning what we take for granted – which is whether it is okay to use, confine, display, and breed for profit, animals who are wild. It is easy to continue spending private and public funds to build zoos, as we do to build human prisons too, and indulge in our desire to see beautiful baby animals from only a matter of yards away. It is easy to think that is normal, and easy to think that we have the right to do that. It is even easier to say that is conserving the species. It is much harder – and more moral, more effective, and more honest – to actually protect the species. And it is easy to lash out and play the blame game as long as it means not changing any of our own behavior and assumptions.

Want to help protect endangered mountain gorillas? Help stop poaching and support the badass anti-poaching movement and the humans who put their very lives in danger every second to protect wildlife like gorillas, rhinos and elephants. It is outrageous for zoos and trophy-hunters to call themselves conservationists while people are literally in the jungle risking brutal torture and death by stepping in the way of poachers.

What else can we do? Stop blackmarket trafficking. Encourage economic support and business development in suffering African nations. Ensure medicinal availability to stop the spread of ebola. Campaign against gorilla bushmeat and provide alternatives. Don’t be fooled by zoo marketing or think you are too far away to do something. There are 880 mountain gorillas on the planet. Don’t imprison them, don’t ignore them, don’t forget them. Demand we do better by them.

Stop visiting zoos and fight for the end to captive breeding – a system that means animals are forcibly bred and raised their entire lives in captivity. Encourage zoos to be sanctuaries – places of refuge for wildlife – without breeding. Wouldn’t you rather your child visit a wild animal in a somewhat wild environment knowing that place is a sanctuary, rather than an entertainment zoo?

Protecting endangered wildlife means protecting wild habitat, and to do that we are going to have to get a lot more invested in wildlife than simply screaming on Facebook or CNN about one, tragic instance as if it isn’t fundamentally representative of animal captivity as a whole. As long as we visit zoos, circuses, and theme parks and exploit wild animals for our entertainment as if we are Roman demigods enjoying the slaughter of barbarians, the suffering and death of animals like Harambe will continue. And nothing of real merit will be done to conserve their species from human consumption, greed, and violence.

Support the GorillaFund (in Dian Fossey’s honor) for Father’s Day by adopting a WILD mountain gorilla.

An Intolerant Mind: Why Tolerance Threatens Coexistence

When we coexist with wolves, we create an empathic relation in which the other’s needs are valued as our own. We see that through trophic cascade, wolves make healthy ecosystems and cleaner rivers and purer air for our children.

When we tolerate wolves, on the other hand, we see our needs uncomfortably subjugated to a perceived special interest. We see wolves benefitting from our tolerance at a cost to ourselves, when we create forced and false tolerance, rather than coexistence.

As children, our prize possession is that which is “mine.” As adults, property becomes like lines in the sandbox. The idea is that we all “get along” as long as we play nicely and leave each other’s stuff alone. But does tolerance create good neighbors, or strangers?

In the poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost’s narrator recounts his neighbor’s mantra: “good fences make good neighbors.” Mending the wall that separates their properties, one of pine and one of apples, the narrator wonders what he is “walling in and walling out.” Certainly fences can be necessary, keeping cattle out of wilderness, and wildlife out of cattle pens. The irony, Frost’s poem shows, is that fences don’t always make good neighbors and “something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”

It is the unfenced mind that coexists.

Tolerance is a display made by the powerful. “I allow you to be different,” tolerance says. “I have decided to tolerate you.” Meanwhile, oppressed people cannot tolerate, because they can’t choose not to (without violent revolt and uprising). But tolerance is also an indicator of fear, of pretending not to see difference–racial blindness for example–of seeing others as threats in ways that alters our encounters with the others, or in deep inarticulable guilt and embarrassment over differences, particularly economic inequality.


The sun does not tolerate the weed – the weed adapts to the sun. To imagine nature needs our tolerance is to undermine the more serious need for coexistence, compassion and empathy. So what are our ideas about tolerance and difference doing to our sense of self, our relationship with others, our political relations with other nations? And is the difference between tolerance and coexistence really that important?

Mount Shasta and rock wall, by Cynthia Singleton

The difference comes down to power. If I coexist with nature, I understand I am part of it and it is part of me. I leave a light footprint on the planet. If I tolerate nature, on the other hand, I believe nature is to be dominated. I divert waterways, see forests as economic resources, and wilderness as track for road and sport. I see predators as a nuisance. I frack, I plunder, I mine, I pump, I leave a heavy-footed print upon the Earth. I am blind to ecosystems, or our essential interconnection, even if I appreciate nature’s beauty.

We take for granted that tolerance is the best way of being in the world. But emphasizing tolerance stunts the very diversity it purports to protect. Tolerance damages our ability to empathize and grow, and to see our interconnections. And it is that — our fear of change, our fear of growing — that is at the heart of hatred, prejudice, cruelty and real intolerance.

Coyote in a field

Removing boundaries means coming face to face with change — changing oneself, one’s culture, one’s systems of normalcy. One either encounters difference and meets it from above, saying “I will or will not tolerate you,” or one meets it from below, saying “I hope you tolerate me,” or one meets difference head on, saying “let’s coexist.” Coexisting, by thriving in a universe of radical difference is a virtue and it helps us feel our connections.

When you feel another’s pain, you feel your own pain more. Jeff Mogil’s study, referenced in the TED radio episode “Press Play,” shows being around strangers creates stress. Stress makes it hard to feel empathy. And not feeling empathy is why tolerance is an inadequate marker of social harmony. In his study, Mogil’s subjects plunged their arms into buckets of ice water and rated their pain. When they did so with a stranger, and were asked to rate their perception of the stranger’s pain, the rating was low. Repeating the same test with a friend, their perception of a friend’s pain was higher, as was their own pain. This is empathy. And it makes us wonder — do fences create good neighbors, or strangers?

A funny thing happens with empathy — when you see others as friends and neighbors, rather than as strangers — you stop wanting to kill them. You stop seeing them as immigrants, refugees, or nuisance. Harmony in a civil society cannot come without empathy and tolerance may actually get in the way.

Wolf, running like the wind in Idaho

When we tolerate others, we see ourselves as allowing the other to have the privilege of being tolerated by us. I will tolerate you IF you behave to my liking, if you stay off my lawn and out of my schools, if you don’t get too big for your britches, if you stay out of the West Bank and have no real political autonomy or independence, if you don’t make me budge, change, grow, or engage with empathy. As long as the wild doesn’t in any way impact my life. This is not really what we want from tolerance. It does not allow us to coexist.

When we coexist we see our Earth as shared, not something we can take or give. When we coexist  we are humbled by the recognition of the vastness of this mysterious universe.






The Heart of Freedom – Cecil the Lion

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.38.44 PMThe killing of Cecil the lion has outraged the public and not simply because he suffered needlessly for days. Why has he reached our hearts when so many other animals are hunted & poached? Why is everyone – from animal advocates to hunters to talk show hosts to the New York Times and the Guardian – so horrified by this brutal killing? The answer lies in freedom.

Cecil’s right to life and his right to be undisturbed were violated. But we too were tricked, harmed, desecrated. Cecil, a 13-year old lion, lived safe in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe under legal protection. But he was unfairly lured out of his refuge, tricked by poachers who tied a dead animal carcass to the back of a truck. Cecil, father to many cubs (who will likely now die), was an easy target while eating. Minnesota dentist and trophy-hunter Walter James Palmer then shot Cecil with an arrow. But Cecil suffered for 40 hours before he was tracked down, killed with a rifle, beheaded, and skinned. His body was left to rot in the sun. His head is missing, as is the now notorious trophy-killer.

Our right to freedom,  to a place in the world where legally protected wilderness and wildlife remain safe, was also violated. There is a distinct lack of democratic consent in the violation of anti-poaching laws, and it is not just Cecil’s lack of consent, but ours too. We are disgraced by transgression of moral law, by the loss of sanctuary, and by the bloodlust of leaving a privileged human community with the sole purpose of entering a wild community around the world to needlessly slaughter its magnificent alpha male. (This video shows Cecil with his cubs at the national park).

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.38.26 PMIn doing so, this sport-killing dentist has left a morally repugnant graffiti upon a wild canvas. Like the graffiti left in Joshua Tree National Park by André Saraiva or the myriad defacements of an attention seeker who foolishly shared her vandalism at more than ten national parks on her social media accounts. The selfishness of killing, of vandalism, of littering are at the heart of our disgust. As much as littering in the forest is a trespass of a right to a wilderness free of human influence, so too is trophy hunting, and poaching of a lion in a sanctuary, a trespass of our right to biodiversity, to an asylum of wild that is free from human debauchery and brutality.

So our horror at this tragedy is that there are places and animals who should be left alone – and the majority of us have made that moral contract through international laws and cross-cultural understandings. That is our consent – we will not kill endangered animals for fun, and we will leave that which is wild alone, for all our sakes.


In violating those explicit and implicit agreements to leave wildlife alone, we destroy ecosystems and biodiversity that will not be there for future generations. This trophy-hunter dentist has deprived us of real freedom, and left a tainted tyranny from which we cannot escape. In many ways, these wild places we hold sacred, these safe havens for wildlife, are fundamental to a truly free world and a human right to have them. And that is what he transgressed by taking Cecil’s life in such a callous, and torturous way.

And in many ways this dentist is symptomatic of the worst of our American culture – and the ways our democracy has become perverted. He is symptomatic of a culture that celebrates unmitigated human power and dominance, qualities that are inherently problematic to a free democratic society.Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.39.33 PM

There are some who celebrate that human dominion. They believe all land, animals, and humans are for “use.” And they believe that environmental laws that limit the destruction of wilderness and wildlife somehow prohibit their right to what they call “freedom” but what they mean is “power.” This dentist didn’t want to be left alone when he killed two lions, a leopard, a rhino, and a bear. He just wanted to kill whatever he wanted to kill, and that isn’t freedom. It’s doing what he wants to do, regardless of the impact it has on others. Palmer, the trophy-hunting lion killer, already had a felony conviction for illegally killing a black bear. Clearly, he feels–no matter the feigned regret he claims–no obligation or moral duty to follow the laws that are our social contract with each other.

Real freedom is the ability to be free of that dominating influence of power. And that’s why we – and animals like Cecil – need serious wildlife protection laws if we want a truly free society. By protecting the sanctity of places that are free from human domination, we protect our own ability to be free.

By killing an animal that belonged to all of us, by not belonging to any of us, this power-hungry trophy-hunter put each of us in a cage where no matter what ends of the earth, an American can pay (his wealth a power over humans) to kill the wildest of animals in a place that was supposed to be safe. Is there nowhere then where nonhuman animals can go and be left alone?

And that is why we mourn Cecil, he is all the animals cruelly harmed, all the wild places torn asunder by greed. He is a wounded, crowded planet trying to be a community but violated by the darkness of greed and power. Without spaces and places free from the influence of those who would kill endangered animals – itself a violation of our right to a diverse and profound wild – none of us are free. We recognize that intuitively and we are outraged. We know that killing threatened and endangered animals (or imprisoning them in zoos) isn’t conservation. It’s just killing and exploitation.

At the heart of the fury and grief expressed over Cecil, we find two things: compassion over his suffering and an overwhelming sentiment of “leave lions alone!” Collectively, society expresses that sentiment so rarely, because it is silenced by the dominant (and incorrect) view that freedom means power, not consent.

In part because of poaching like this, lions will likely be extinct in the wild in our lifetimes. Here, in this moment, we recognize Cecil was not an individual’s to kill but rather ours to value, even if we never knew him or of him. His refuge was our refuge, and his ability to be left alone was a measure of our ability to be left alone. People are outraged because he represented real freedom, now and for the future.

As our human population continues to expand exponentially, far beyond the resources the planet provides us, large mammals like lions will become even more vulnerable. Already, lions are reproducing more slowly than the rate at which they will be poached. Because of population growth, climate change, industrial agriculture, and aggressive poaching like this, future generations will probably never have the privilege of living in a free world with wild lions.

Who are the people we want to make up our society? Are they greedy, bloodthirsty, power-driven trophy-hunting killers with an unquenchable hunger to deprive the rest of us (including future generations) of the freedom of the wild by exerting dominance over it? We create future generations and we create values in a democracy. If we value freedom we must value wilderness and wildness, and our wildlife trafficking, poaching, and trophy-hunting laws must reflect that.

Sign and share this petition asking U.S. Fish & Wildlife to protect our freedoms by fast-tracking the listing of African Lions as an “endangered species” and prohibiting the import of wild lions and their body parts (like Cecil’s head) as “trophies” in the U.S.

Wildcat Roar: When Mountain Lions Live Under the House

This cougar is ready for his closeup – famous photo of P-22 captured by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter (Hollywood sign in background)

When we take away wild places for wild animals, those animals find ways of showing up in our backyard. Because it was their backyard first … When that animal is a predator, all hell breaks loose, suburban-wild style.

The anti-predator myth is exemplified by this week’s hysterical reaction to a mountain lion under a house that borders Griffith Park. It illustrates a cultural paranoia we must conquer if we are going to coexist with wild animals. We don’t have wolves to demonize here in California (other than OR-7, vacationing with his family in Southwest Oregon). We have mountain lions.

In the past 30 years, three people out of more than 30 million have been fatally injured by a mountain lion; less than a dozen fatalities in 125 years (a handful more if you add Canada and Mexico). California Fish & Wildlife estimates a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. So why are we so afraid?

Very few people ever see a mountain lion. Coming “eyeball to eyeball” with the lion known as “P-22” in a crawlspace, a worker installing a security system had the surprise of a lifetime this week. But journalists exploited this drama. With apparent glee, they treated this wildcat nap like a car chase or a hostage crisis. Reporters were licking their lips waiting for the armed cult leader to finally drive off the road or open fire on children. Or crawl out from under the house.

mountain lion
Department of Fish & Wildlife photo

Wildlife officials poked that dang varmint with a stick, they shot beanbags at him, hell they even shot tennis balls at him. But that sucker was resistant. In a safe,dark place, he stayed put, while firefighters, wildlife officials, and reporters went nuts. CA Fish & Wildlife finally realized that (as any owner of a cat can tell you) the best way to get him to come out is to leave him alone.

And when they did, he left. So the news that obsessed media for a day was that a wild animal crawled under a house that borders a 4,300 acre park (5x larger than Central Park) where the animal lives. Why is this news? Because of the myth and the lore that surrounds apex predators.

Suburban sprawl into wild areas guarantees some overlap with wild animals. That’s why we must talk about protecting native animals by protecting their land and leaving them alone. Instead, there was only panic about the dangers of wild animals and a demonizing of predators.

Mountain lion attacks are extremely rare. Even seeing one is unusual. Mountain lions—aka cougars, pumas, or panthers—are shy, solitary, and stealthy apex predators. They are the ninjas of the California animal world—and they want to be left alone. Lions are not often seen skipping down the mountainside, being goofy, like dogs and coyotes. Mountain lions are, after all, cats. Only in exceptional cases do they allow humans to see them. Mostly, mountain lions are there only when you have no idea they’re there.

As apex predators they are vital to our environment. Destroying mountain lions, by usurping their habitat, destroys entire ecosystems. And that’s just what we’re doing. There are only 4-5,000 mountain lions in California.

Mountain lion cubs – photo by Lorene Auvinen

Culturally, we love identifying with predators, becoming them, temporarily as mascots and tattoos: wildcats, lions, tigers, wolverines, bears. Unfortunately, people also like shooting them too—the combination of desire and fear is the attraction we feel when we don their likeness in symbolic ways to harness their mythological power. Dominating a dominant animal proves our power, so some seem to believe. Yet we are terrified of coexisting with these predators. That is the suburban mystique all over again: we long for the wild within, while massacring the wild without.

We need to stop mythologizing animals and instead respect them by leaving them alone, and protecting their legal rights, lands, and lives. Coexisting—as anyone with roommates and teenage family members knows—is usually about leaving each other alone. We must make our decisions as a balance between science, ecology, and the highest common good, which includes the interests of animals and the Earth.

National Park Service photo

What’s the Law?

On June 5, 1990, Californian voters approved Proposition 117 – the Mountain Lion Initiative – (called the “People’s Initiative” after Mountain Lion Foundation volunteers gathered more than 680,000 signatures to put it on the ballot). Prop 117 did two important things: it banned trophy hunting and it helped save land for mountain lions to stay wild.

Prop 117 created a Habitat Conservation Fund of $1 million a year until 2020 to “acquire, enhance, restore” wild lands for wildlife. That Proposition also changed mountain lions from “game” hunted for “sport” to “specially protected mammals” who aren’t allowed to be killed for fun.

A property owner can kill a mountain lion who threatens humans or animals only with a depredation permit. This permit is required by law and even with this permit a person is prohibited from the use of “poison, leg-hold or metal-jawed traps and snares.” Breaking this law can lead to criminal charges.

What is usually shared when discussing predators is what to do when you encounter one; people are given a tip sheet for resolving confrontation at an individual level. What is not discussed is how to prevent and avoid confrontation at a socio-cultural level, because that would involve doing things we don’t want to do, like not treating the Earth like a parking lot, not acting on all opportunities for suburban development, and not thinking only of our own immediate interests.

That being said, for the benefit of animals, wild and domestic, here are some precautions to avoid the conflict with native animals like mountain lions in the first place:

Facts for Staying Safe and Protecting Mountain Lions

  • Mountain lions try very hard to avoid people, but often coexist around us, unseen and unheard.
  • Mountain lions are found where deer are found; deer are their primary food.
  • Mountain lions are especially found in the foothills and mountains.
  • Mountain lions who reveal themselves to humans may suffer rabies or be desperately starving.
  • Mountain lions who threaten humans are immediately killed – about 100 are killed every year: they can’t be moved (due to conflicts with other lions and revisiting issues).

Use Nonlethal Control

  • Don’t feed or attract deer – it attracts mountain lions and it’s against the law.
  • Don’t feed raccoons and other mountain lion prey: don’t leave pet food outside.
  • Not attracting deer means avoiding plants deer like to eat.
  • Not attracting a lion means trimming hedges that offer hiding places.
  • Don’t leave children and pets outdoors, especially at dawn, twilight, and night.
  • Don’t leave yourself outdoors alone on a borderland jogging or hiking path, at dawn, twilight, and night.
  • Make sure animals are protected with covered shelters.
  • Protect your perimeters with motion-sensor lights outside your home.

What if you’ve done all this and still see a mountain lion?

  • Do not, under any circumstances, get closer.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, run.
  • Do not pop a squat, crouch, or lose eye contact.
  • Do pick up small children.
  • Do make yourself look bigger and noisier.

Support mountain lion protection: check out the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation.