Tolerance for cougars diminished by high perception of risk
Aliah Adams Knopff, Talus Environmental Consulting
Kyle H Knopff, Golder Associates Ltd.
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, University of Alberta
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In North America, both human and cougar populations are expanding and increasingly sharing the same space, including modified landscapes viewed by people as their “backyard.” Low tolerance for cougars in modified landscapes has been identified as a key factor that could restrict continued cougar range expansion in North America, or even reverse some of the gains made by cougar populations in recent decades. To better understand factors influencing tolerance and identify opportunities to improve conservation prospects for cougars, we implemented a questionnaire in west-central Alberta, where both human and cougar populations have increased over the past 20 years and where we had developed a resource selection function for cougars from telemetry data. Respondents overestimated risk from cougars, and more than half believed cougars posed the same or greater risk as driving a car, even though only one Albertan has been killed by a cougar in the last century and hundreds die in car accidents each year. Although respondents valued cougars highly, they indicated that cougars belonged in the wilderness and not near their homes. We predicted that tolerance for cougars would be negatively correlated with increased probability of cougar selection near the respondent’s home, but our prediction was not supported. Although such correlations have been reported at broader spatial scales, we suggest they may break down at finer scales. Other factors, such as education, were important drivers of tolerance for cougars in Alberta. Our results suggest that education undertaken to improve large carnivore conservation should focus on accurately defining the risks and ecological benefits resulting from maintaining cougars on the landscape. Education may also need to focus on the importance of nonwilderness habitats (i.e., the rapidly expanding backyard) as an important part of long-term conservation and continued range expansion and repatriation of adaptable large carnivores, such as cougars.
Alberta, carnivore management; coexistence; conflict; cougar; Puma concolor; risk; RSF; tolerance
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