2002-12-12 / Arts & Entertainment

PBS Special Focuses In Uncertain Future Of American Cougars

Cougars, like the Yellowstone National Park denizen pictured, once occupied the largest habitat of any New World mammal. But today, as their wilderness homes disappear, these creatures often wander into human communities, posing a danger both to themselves and local residents. 			                     Dr. Maurice HornockerCougars, like the Yellowstone National Park denizen pictured, once occupied the largest habitat of any New World mammal. But today, as their wilderness homes disappear, these creatures often wander into human communities, posing a danger both to themselves and local residents. Dr. Maurice Hornocker

Hunted almost to extinction over the past three centuries, cougars are making a comeback today, with some 30,000 living in the wilds of North and South America. But they still face un-certain prospects, as human encroachment continues to shrink their natural habitats.

Doggedly tracking these magnificent animals, (also known as mountain lions or panthers) which were once re-ferred to as "king cat," filmmaker Ron Shade provides an incisive look at their prospects for survival in a new NA-TUREsm series special, Trail of the Cougar, premiering December 15 at 8 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings).

Frequently referred to as mountain lions in some regions, cougars formerly roamed freely throughout the Ame-ricas. The filmmakers relate the near-legendary story of an unwelcome visitor to a Vancouver Island hotel. The immature male cat was tranquilized and removed, with no harm to anyone.

Not so fortunate was a Vancouver eight-year-old who was attacked by a cougar when she was leaving a playground with her friends. A nearby adult beat off the animal with a stick, but not before the child suffered serious injuries.

Although cougar attacks on humans are rare, and fatalities even less common, they are on the increase. Regard-less of the outcome of an attack, whether it’s on humans, pets or livestock, the predator is hunted and killed.

Deer and elk are the cat’s prey of choice. In Yellowstone National Park, mountain lions must compete for territory and prey with wolves, which have been successfully reintroduced into this vast wilderness area. This relationship is the focus of a study by a conservation scientist, who is trying to determine how the presence of the wolves is affect-ing the cougars’ chances of survival.

Although cougars in the western United States face many challenges, the situation is more serious for a subspecies in Florida, known as Florida panthers. There, their numbers have dwindled to about 70, placing them among the rarest and most endangered mammals in the world. Conservationists who are working to preserve the Flo-rida panther in the wild face an uphill battle, as more and more of the state’s habitat is lost to development.

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