Nationally Recognized Lion Expert Supports G&F

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One of the nation's most respected experts on mountain lion-human interactions has sent a letter of support to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Professor E. Lee Fitzhugh, in a letter dated March 24, champions the research, expertise and actions of the Arizona Game and Fish Department in Sabino Canyon.

Fitzhugh is a Ph.D. who is a professor at the University of California, Davis, and a wildlife specialist at the university's Cooperative Extension Office, says his analysis of Sabino Canyon sightings compiled by the department shows a "disturbing trend from the standpoint of human safety."

Fitzhugh also notes that the nature of the credible incidents reported is "cause for concern." Those incidents include: frequenting of a schoolyard, disappearance of pets, approaches to and growling at people, which Fitzhugh says are "all signs that mountain lions are becoming so used to people that an attack may soon occur. This alone is sufficient reason for action."

In the letter to the department, Fitzhugh also discusses two alternate control methods suggested by animal protection groups, and notes that aversive conditioning has not been tested on mountain lions and says that when it has been tested on other animals, it has been found to be "difficult, if not impossible" to change the behavior of habituated animals.

"In the case of Sabino Canyon," Fitzhugh says in the letter, "I think this would be a logistical impossibility for an agency and a behavioral impossibility (not to mention risk) for the public to accomplish."

Fitzhugh concludes that:

I believe it would be preferable to either shoot [the lions] on-site or trap and euthanize them. Moreover, if certain groups insist on other solutions, I suggest it is only fair to the taxpayers of Arizona that the excess costs of the other solution be paid by the groups that insist on it, including paying for life-long care and feeding of the animals in a licensed facility. Also, if there are those among these groups' memberships who are qualified to perform the necessary activities, they should volunteer to risk their lives in the helicopter work, at their own liability with no recourse to the public in the event of an accident.

Lee Fitzhugh received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from the University of Michigan in 1959 and a doctorate in Wildlife Biology from the University of Arizona in 1974. He has 20 years of experience researching lion-human interactions, including mountain lion attacks, and is a professor of biological sciences in the Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Department at the University of California, Davis.

The cost of the lion airlift is estimated at $4,000 to $6,000 a day, factoring in helicopter charges, the time of trackers and biologists and ground transport for the mountain lions. The department's wildlife management activities are funded through sales of hunting and fishing licenses; the department uses no General Fund monies.