Magazine article Earth Island Journal

A Hopeful Tail

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

A Hopeful Tail

Article excerpt

One afternoon last summer I was hiking in the hills above Berkeley, California with a friend and talking--as it just so happened--about the nature of wildness when my companion stopped and pointed downward. There, fastened to the trunk of a coast live oak at about shin height, was a wildlife camera trap. We bent down to inspect. The motion detector-activated camera had a sticker from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a sticker from the wildlife group Panthera, and some language about how it was part of a cougar tracking study, illegal to remove or tamper with.

I was stunned. Sure, I knew, in an intellectual kind of way, that mountain lions had made it back to the chaparral hillsides above San Francisco Bay Friends had told me of weird encounters in the hills with their dogs, glimpses of something large and fast-moving in the brush. I remembered the female cougar that made headlines in 2010 when it came into the middle of town and, after a midnight chase, was shot by police. But the camera trap seemed to make it all more real. Cougars, right here in the midst of a major metropolitan area, within view of my office building. Incredible!

As Noah Sudarsky reports in our cover story ("Cat Fight," page 30), after centuries of persecution that sent the animal to the brink of extinction, the mountain lion has made something of a comeback. "Mountain lions are moving from their strongholds in the Mountain West and are returning to parts of the animal's former range," Sudarsky writes. Perhaps most impressively, the rebound has occurred without human assistance. Unlike the California condor or the gray wolf, the cougar has rewilded the land by itself. …

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