Cougars can save human lives by helping reduce another animal population that poses a far greater threat.
While often cited as a pretty big risk to human safety, cougars may play an important role in protecting us from another large mammal: the deer.
Vehicle and deer collisions are, in fact, the greatest animal-related threat to our everyday safety, with 29,000 injuries and over 200 deaths recorded each year. A recent study from Conservation Letters correlates how a higher population of cougars could significantly reduce the threat of deer induced accidents on our roads.
Researchers state that with the increased population and reintroduction of cougars to the eastern U.S., vehicle collisions with deer could be reduced by 22%. This reduction would tally with 21,900 fewer injuries to humans, preventing 155 deaths and saving billions of dollars within 30 years.
It is still a challenging message to get through to the general public, as the perception remains that cougars present a serious risk as apex predators, while deer are portrayed as harmless in popular culture and most media.
What is not as clear is the overall impact an increased population of mountain lions could have beyond reducing deer numbers, as voiced by James Gorman, a New York Times Columnist:
“Figuring out the downsides of having cougars back was more difficult… they could not account for the obvious emotional response to predators. Even if the estimate is correct that five times as many people would be saved by cougars as would be killed, death by deer and cougar are different.”
There remains a strong argument for returning these big cats to their traditional ranges of the eastern wilds. Not to mention, considering the recent sightings of cougars in the east, the return may be inevitable over the coming decades.