Path of the Puma - The Amazing Return of the American Lion
When Patagonia (the outdoor retailer) said they’d send me a book on mountain lion research, I jumped at the chance. Mountain lions have fascinated me for years.
The book is Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion by Jim Williams.
I hike a lot. On almost every hike, I am firmly in mountain lion territory. Many of us in San Diego county live in mountain lion territory. I have seen their big M-shaped tracks all over the place, but I have never seen one in person, except at Mostly Monkeys, a wildlife sanctuary in Ramona, run by people with big hearts.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife have maintained a list of Verified Mountain Lion Attacks on Humans in California (1986 through 2014) on their website.
In San Diego County, in that 28-year span, there have only been two attacks on humans. Only one was fatal and officials speculate that she was running away from the mountain lion, triggering its chase response.
I mention this in order to dispel a myth about mountain lions being dangerous animals that are hunting humans every time we’re in the backcountry. They really prefer deer.
The book describes the mountain lion as a ‘ghost cat’ that mostly moves around at night, its paws designed to make no noise, its lack of scent allowing it to slip unnoticed by coyotes and wolves, and how it seeks shelter when encountering humans or anything unusual.
It’s no wonder I’ve never seen them.
The book covers the author’s journey from surfer to ardent wildlife advocate, with his love of wildlife threading through it all. Sprinkled generously throughout the book are gorgeous photographs, some from the author and some from other sources.
Throughout all the interesting storytelling, there is a huge underlying theme for the book, articulated beautifully in the chapter called Locals Only. It describes the common ground that exists between all of the different outdoor enthusiasts, from casual hikers to dedicated hunters:
It’s about participating in nature in a deeply profound way. There’s a broad area, I’ve found, where the interests of the most ardent hunter and the most gun-adverse environmentalist overlap, and in that space lies the hope for nature’s future, both predator and prey.
The author implemented strategies for managing the population of mountain lions in Montana, as well as Patagonia. During his research, in one region in Montana, the quota for hunting mountain lions in the season was 12. Within the first hour of the hunting season, it was already over. 24 lions had been killed, twice the quota for the entire season.
It’s easy to see why better strategies need to be implemented to save the mountain lion from devastation.
Other chapters are devoted to the various animals in the mountain lion’s ecosystem and how their health affects the lions and vice versa, down to the soil composition. Nature exists as a delicate balance and when we exert ourselves on one side or the other, it’s going to tip.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this while relaxing in a vacation rental in Sedona, as well as spending time with my family in a cabin in the Eastern Sierra.
The mountain lions in San Diego are truly a magnificent animals and, as confirmed by the book, have undoubtedly watched me on many occasions as I’ve hiked on by.
For this review, I was sent a free copy of the book and there is at least one affiliate link in this blog post. My opinions are my own.