Sunday, March 25, 2012

death of a cat

It's always the same when hunting mountain lions, it seems: the guys go out with their hounds and let them loose; when the dogs pick up a scent, the whole hunting party starts off after the big cat. The dogs usually get to the cat first; in fact, most hunters say it's almost impossible to hunt cougars without dogs: the cats are too sly and quiet to be easy quarry. What usually happens next is that the dogs tree the cougar-- also called a puma, a catamount, and various other names-- and when the bipeds catch up, they leash the dogs to the nearby trees. The hounds keep baying; the cat stays put.

This particular cat, on this particular day, was already up in the tree, trapped by the dogs. The air was crisp and cold; it was winter, and the tall Ponderosa pine that served as the cat's refuge still held clumps of snow. The cougar looked down; it saw and smelled and heard the dogs. Its strong claws gripped the branches; it could probably stay in that tree indefinitely-- at least until the dogs got bored. The men who tended the dogs were loud, too, but their attention often seemed more focused on whatever objects they were handling than on the cougar itself. Every now and again the cougar let out a threatening hiss, exposing its fangs. After the effort of running and climbing that tree, its breathing was quick and shallow.

The cougar was still watching the dogs when the crossbow quarrel slammed into its chest and buried itself so deeply that not even the feathers were visible. Startled, the cougar leaped reflexively and somehow managed to keep its perch.

"Oh, my God!" one of the men cried.

The cougar stared down at the men. Blood poured in a frightening torrent from a gaping wound high in its ribcage. Twice, the cougar tried to roar, but dark crimson surged out even faster with each attempt. Despite its efforts, the cat made no sound.

"Heart shot, baby! Heart shot!" one of the men shouted, excited and triumphant.

But the quarrel hadn't struck the heart: had it done so, the cat would have died much more quickly. Instead, the cougar tried in vain to adjust its posture, perhaps not realizing how weak it had become in the space of five seconds. It lost its balance, clawed desperately at some branches, then tumbled to the cold earth. The men released one of the hounds; the cougar somehow managed to right itself, but at that point it was too late: too much internal damage had been done. Its shredded lungs full of blood, the cougar ran a few yards, then died. The last sounds it heard were the baying of the hounds and the triumphant whoops of one of the men.

The above is based on this video. Click only if you're not squeamish, because that blood flow is truly horrifying.

To be clear: I'm not anti-hunting, and I'm aware that mountain lions have become numerous enough, in places like New Mexico, to qualify as a legitimate menace. Such cats attack a sufficient number of people-- hikers and oblivious children-- to make their culling a necessity. My Buddhist readers might not want to hear this, but I'm all for hunting cougars. That said, I can't help feeling uncomfortable about the crass way in which the hunter in the video celebrates his kill.

Having watched a number of hunting vids on YouTube over the past couple months, I've come to realize that hunters seem to come in several flavors. At the tasteless end of the spectrum are the guys who see animals as trophies, and who act as if their kill took enormous courage. In reality, the kill is the result of careful planning and experience. That in itself is fine; I don't think there's anything smart or noble about hunting in a heedless, self-endangering manner. But shooting a treed mountain lion is a far cry from defending your family from a mountain lion that has entered your home. The latter takes true guts.

At the other end of the spectrum are the quieter, more analytical hunters who do what they do for practical reasons. They may be getting rid of an overpopulation of nuisance animals, or they may be hunting for food and pelts. Such hunters-- civilized and stoic-- have my respect. They've learned something from the ethos of the American Indian about being thankful for the animal they've brought down, and they don't engage in embarrassing displays of fist-pumping, shouting, and jeering.

I subscribe to the old wisdom that, when you bring an animal down, you are bound to that animal. Even if the link is only a biological one, scientifically explainable, the fact remains that that animal now gives you some of its energy. You're both playing your roles in the great cosmic drama, life feeding on life, and that's something to take seriously.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for the fine balance you provide. You express my thoughts better than I could do myself. Just as in most things in life, there is a middle between the extremes that contains the proper response. You seem to have found that.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I couldn't bring myself to watch the video, so horrifying was your description. What those men did might have been legal, but it sounds like a brutal killing by a gleefully malicious, bloodthirsty mob.

Jeffery Hodges

* * * said...

Kevin, I am paraphrasing here, but I remember something I saw years ago on the tv show "Kung Fu" which touches on this: "Glory" is what man uses to cover up the nakedness of their killing.

I owe that show so very much because it brought me to my interest in the philosophies and ways of Asia that I have followed up on and has made my life so much richer than it would have been otherwise.

I, like you, can understand the motivations behind what is done to dangerous cats in some parts of the country. I dont want humans to be hurt or killed by them, certainly not. But the death of this animal is surely deserving of more respect and a some sort of feelings of regret that this was a necessity.

I would have more respect for the hunters if they had shown more respect at the conclusion of this sad incident...

BTW, what is your take on the show, "Kung Fu"? I would be interested in knowing because you have more experience than I do about its subject matter (never was much drawn to the violence but the insights were a treasure to me to this day).