Conservationists have long advocated the reintroduction of cougars in areas of the United States where they no longer exist, and a new analyse might support this, but not for the reason you might guess. Sure, they can help the environment by reducing the number of deer thateat saplings, but theirreintroductionmight also mean saving lives. If there are fewer deer roaming the landscape, a new survey argues, it’s possible the number of deaths caused by road crashes with the ungulates could also be cut.
The removal of big carnivores from the wild is a common phenomenon in the developed world. As farming and populations spread, man comes into increasing competition with big predators that occasionally prey upon livestock and even people. Yet only now are we starting to realize the profound impact that the extirpation of these animals may be having on the environment. Populations of their prey species have exploded, with deer becoming a particular problem.
They denude the landscape of plants, particularly saplings, which has been shown can have massive unforeseen impacts on the landscape itself, but they also pose a not inconsiderable threat to humen. In the US alone, over a million people have vehicle crashes with white-tailed deer, leading to around 200 deaths per annum, stimulating the deer themost dangerous large mammalin the US. Researchers decided to look into the impact that a large predator, in this case the cougar, would have on the number of vehicle collision in the different regions of the US, and have published their results in Conservation Letters.
By investigating data from over 19 countries, they found that if the big cats still stalked the woods, it could result in 155 fewer deaths per year, as well as prevent over 21,000 injuries and save around $2.3 billion over 30 years. While they note that the wandering of the large predator may cause human deaths in itself, they note that the numbers of persons lost to the cats, estimated to be less than 30, would be far outweighed by the number of people saved overall.
The paper is careful not to make the argument for reintroducing the large predator, something thatis highly controversial with the general public, but they do point out that the big cat are repopulating areas where they once roamed without our help anyway. The ecosystem service thatthey may provide in protecting people from potentially fatal accidents with deer on the roads could, they say, be another reason to let them return unhindered.