DQ Blog


    February 18, 2019

     Forty-five years in Montana, hiking the trails, skiing the mountains, driving the back roads, and I had never caught a glimpse of a mountain lion.  It's not that they are rare here—they aren't.  They live a pretty good life and at reasonable abundance, for a predator, eating deer and other prey, favoring rocky bluffs and deep forest,  occasionally showing up at the fringes of human settlement.  Many people see them by sheer happenstance—crossing the yard near a mountain cabin, at the edge of a ski area, along a foot trail just a mile from the parking lot.  But not me, ever.  It isn't that I'm extraordinarily unlucky, or obtuse (I hope), when it comes to observing elusive and formidable animals.  On the contrary, I've been privileged.  I've seen a Siberian tiger in the wild; but never a Montana cougar.  (For clarity: cougar, mountain lion, catamount, and puma are all synonyms for the same creature, Puma concolor by its scientific name, found from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes, the most broadly north-to-south-distributed big mammal, not counting humans, in the world.)  I've watched a Komodo dragon climb a cliff on the island of Komodo; but never a mountain lion crossing a dirt road in the Gallatins.  I've ogled saltwater crocs in Arnhem Land, leopards in Africa, Asiatic lions at Gir Forest in Gujarat, and grizzly bears in Yellowstone; but not one glimpse of the reigning big cat in the state where I live.  Finally, I had to go all the way to Patagonia National Park, in southern Chile, for that modest but satisfying experience.


    I was there for National Geographic, researching a story on Tompkins Conservation, the vast philanthropic effort created by the late Doug Tompkins and his wife Kristine McDivitt Tompkins to buy and restore wildlish lands and give them, as national parks, to the peoples of Chile and Argentina.  One evening after dinner, Kris Tompkins asked me: Do you want to go spotlighting for puma?  Yes.  She arranged for Cristian Saucedo, the park's chief biologist, with whom

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