On one hand – make that paw – the state of New Mexico has set up a CougarCam so YouTube viewers can watch the antics of two orphaned cougar kittens who now call Edgewood’s Wildlife West Nature Park home.
On the other, it expands the trapping of cougars starting Nov. 1, a practice as barbaric as it is indiscriminate and one that broke one of the sisters’ legs before the kittens were relegated to living in a 60- by 90-foot enclosure.
A cynic could argue it’s really just the business of supply and demand, with Game and Fish officials ensuring there will be many more orphaned and injured cougars like True and Zia for Tourism Department officials to put on 24/7 web feeds.
But is that the kind of business the so-called Land of Enchantment wants to be in? It’s really just one step short of having Game and Fish put GoPros on every animal it comes in contact with so when one is caught in a trap or snare we can all go online and watch it gnaw its paws off trying to escape.
If that’s too graphic, so is trapping. Leg-hold traps were invented in the 1800s and have been banned in more than 80 countries – in great part because they are like land mines and pose a threat to any unsuspecting living thing that comes in contact with them.
They can clamp down on a dog. A nontargeted species. An endangered or protected species. A hiker. A kid. That’s why eight states, including Arizona and Colorado, have banned or placed severe restrictions on leg-hold and instant-kill traps. No other state except Texas allows cougar trapping.
The Tourism Department says in its CougarCam news release that the kittens’ mother was “killed” and the sisters were “rescued,” one after suffering a broken leg from being caught in, yes, a trap.
They were just 3 months old when a licensed trapper notified conservation officers that a cougar kitten was in a foothold trap near Wagon Mound. Responding officers found the second kitten nearby.
Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for Animal Protection of New Mexico, says “we need to know how these two cougar cubs got orphaned in the first place, but our request for details from the Department of Game and Fish has left us empty-handed. How did their mother die? Were there any criminal consequences for the person who illegally killed the mother and caught one of the cubs in a leg-hold trap?”
An internal Game and Fish memo says the wildlife center in Española that first treated the kittens “said they thought there was some criminal circumstances which led to the cubs being taken there.” Johnson says state rules make it “unlawful to kill a female cougar accompanied by spotted kitten(s), or any spotted kitten.”
Lance Cherry, chief of information and education at Game and Fish, says, “Although Game and Fish officers are investigating, they have not yet determined if the mother had abandoned the cubs or if she died prior to their capture.”
Tourism’s CougarCam, which is inside the enclosure where True and Zia will live out their lives because they did not have a mother to teach them how to hunt, went live last Friday. They nap inside their den, sunbathe on top of it, chase each other and look expectantly off-camera, making watchers question what interests them so much – visitors? feeding time? Wildlife watching is an internet sensation, and so far all viewers have given CougarCam a thumbs up.
Cherry says “the efforts of everyone involved will ensure the lions receive ongoing veterinary care and will provide a unique educational opportunity for the people of New Mexico and visitors to the state.”
In announcing the webcam, Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham said, “Cougars are part of the natural history of our state. Their range is all over New Mexico … but because they are quite shy, very few people have actually seen them. Now people from all over the world can watch these two grow up.”
Which means they have might have better odds than their wild brethren.
It used to be that to trap a cougar in New Mexico, you had to get a special permit, and you could do it on private land only. But in August, the seven-member New Mexico Game Commission decided cougar permits are not needed on private land – which means there is no way to track how many are killed.
It also added 9 million acres of state trust land to the leg-hold trapping and snaring kill zone.
Animal Protection and the Humane Society of the United States are suing in state and federal courts over the expansion, arguing, “Littering New Mexico with leg-hold traps and snares will expose endangered Mexican wolves and jaguars to cruel and unnecessary suffering and death.” Not to mention anything else that steps across them, like a cougar kitten.
In this digital, interconnected world, nobody bats an eye when people on one side of the globe watch something as it’s happening on the other. But in this disconnected place, somebody needs to bat a paw at a state government that is expanding cougar trapping while it celebrates two orphaned cougars on a state webcam.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.