Changing Planet

Marching For (Cat) Science

A female mountain lion stares at researchers during a Panthera led study in the Rocky Mountains, USA. Photograph by Mark Elbroch / Panthera.
A female mountain lion stares at researchers during a Panthera led study in the Rocky Mountains, USA. Photograph by Mark Elbroch / Panthera.

I grew up catching animals of all sorts. I kept buckets full of jumping spiders, turtles and snakes. At five-years-old, under the careful instruction of my grandfather, I miraculously caught a rabbit in a flimsy butterfly net attached to the end of a bamboo shoot. After parading it proudly about the house, I released it where I’d caught it several hours before. At seven, I was rushed to the hospital brandishing a feral rat bite; I’d saved it from my dogs after they’d pulled it from a woodpile along a red clay creek in Oklahoma. It was the latest in a string of varied animal bites, and so I was lectured by two doctors who told me to stop approaching wild animals. Unabashed, I informed them that when I grew up I wanted to be a scientist like Jane Goodall, surrounded by wild creatures.

It’s not in every country that one can dream big, and pursue that dream until it becomes reality. Here I am, 40 years later, still catching animals—though now they’re larger and with bigger teeth.

AnnaKusler_by_AbelGonzales
Anna Kusler, graduate student at Pace University with Dr. Melissa Grigione, holds up a soil sample taken below the carcass of an animal killed by a mountain lion in northwest Wyoming on Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project. Photograph by Abel Gonzales.

Today, I’m just as captivated by wildlife and science as ever, if not more. For me, science is about creative thinking—it’s the freedom to ask good questions and seek better answers. Science has led to such monumental human feats as flying (without feathers) and walking on the moon. Many of my heroes are scientists.

Here at Panthera, science has allowed us to challenge what we thought we knew about mountain lions. When scientists placed satellites in space and developed Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that allowed us to follow mountain lions in near real time, we realized how little we knew about the distances they traveled, how frequently they hunted, or how often they interacted with each other.

When scientists invented motion-triggered video cameras that allowed us to record the secret lives of mountain lions, we witnessed playful, intimate family groups, rather than solitary killing machines.

Michelle Peziol
Michelle Peziol, Project Manager for Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project, and graduate student at Washington State University with Dr. Dan Thornton, assesses an elk calf killed by a mountain lion in northwest Wyoming. Photograph by Connor O’Malley / Panthera.

We worked with geneticists to learn which mountain lions were relatives and which were unrelated. And applied mathematicians developed methods for us to determine how mountain lion populations changed over time so that we might collaborate with state agency biologists to improve mountain lion management. Science supports everything we do.

Tomorrow, I March for Science: for the right to ask creative questions, and for the privilege our amazing country affords me to pursue science boldly. I march for my children, and all children, to ensure they have the chance to grow up catching animals in a world where wildlife and science are celebrated and protected. I march for mountain lions. And I march for the students studying alongside me—bright-eyed, curious, and full of determination to make a difference in the world. They remind me that my love for science bloomed in nature’s beautiful and sometimes brutal embrace, and that we need to be fearless to forge new paths in both science and life.Logo_WhiteBackgrounds

Mark Elbroch has contributed to puma research in Idaho, Colorado, California, Wyoming, and Chile, and lots of other carnivores along the way. He earned his PhD at the University of California, Davis, where his dissertation research focused on puma ecology in Patagonia in the presence of endangered humeul deer. He has authored/coauthored 10 books on natural history (http://www.amazon.com/Mark-Elbroch/e/B001ILHI96) and numerous scientific articles published in peer-review journals. Mark is currently a Project Leader for Panthera, a US-based non-profit that conducts science to promote wild cat conservation worldwide.
  • Melissa Shaffer

    Cats are the 1 species to keep this life in check. We must protect all of them.

  • kittyCat_Comics

    this is a lovly article all it needs is for a different perspective like 3 point off view then add some details of trips you’ve been on.You could realy make a diffrance in the world and I love cat and espsly panthers don’t forget the forest cats I recommend the book seires WARRIOR CATS it will realy get your blood flowing for your next adventure! X3
    ~Aphmu-lover~

  • SansversusChara

    I agree cats are a way of life to all humans with them,they show responsibility and kindness[well most cats do anyways…XD]
    I love what your doing you realy should send a link to facebook they would realy like it!

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