*updated to add the picture of the last Kofa lion that was killed, obviously before his death. picture courtesy of Daniel Patterson, who received the photo from USFWS Southwest Arizona NWR Complex Manager Mitch Ellis. They would not release the “mortality” photo, which has some implications that do not reflect well on them.*
The state and federal groups have announced that the Kofa NWR lions have a one year reprieve from being hunted via radio collars. PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) put pressure on Kofa and the AGFD, which appears to have resulted in the Kofa NWR and AGFD’s announcement of the reprieve, though of course the refuge managers themselves deny that PEER had any influence at all on the decision. I find that hard to imagine.
From PEER’s article:
Arizona Game & Fish derives significant revenue from selling bighorn hunting tags and is concerned that cougar predation may be costing it potential revenue. The federal refuge also expends significant funds to kill cougars in the name of bighorn protection, yet refuge management still allows the annual hunting of more than ten bighorn rams on the Kofa NWR itself.
What a mass of contradictions that is! And it looks like it tells most of the $tory of the motivation of the AGFD.
What does this reprieve mean? It means that the AGFD and Kofa NWR will not kill the mountain lions on Kofa land for the next year, though they “might” continue to trap and collar them. Hunters are not supposed to use GPS to track and kill the lions, but they are still allowed to kill them off refuge land. I can’t help but to wonder whether there is some back room winking and nudging going on, since the Kofa management has been consistantly anti-predator in every document they produce and action they’ve taken. Not to mention in their concern for their revenue stream.
In the next year, Kofa will research to determine (to the best of their ability) what has been causing the decline in herd size of the Kofa Bighorn Sheep. In the most recent Yuma Sun article, they’re making it clear what outcome they expect. For anyone trained in science, you know that such bias going into a research project generally means you do a piss poor job of analyzing the data, and that the research procedure itself has a tendency to be flawed when you make no attempt to be unbiased. Why do I think that the AGFD and the Kofa management is biased? Because in the article, they are quoted as saying that they will spend the next year to determine what role the lions have played in the sheep herds.
They are broadcasting what they expect to find. I didn’t see any mention of the many other factors that will almost certainly have played a contributing role:
- drought (and thus reduction in resources available to the sheep),
- herd health (sheep are well known to be vulnerable to respiratory problems, which kofa nwr itself says is more prevalent during drought conditions, which would mean now),
- environmental pressure and destruction by humans, and
- other environmental factors that could contribute to low-fertility and/or high mortality of the young sheep.
One other tidbit is that sheep populations are going up. And that, folks, was between ’06 and ’07. Before 2 lions were killed.
Given the ever increasing amounts of poisons in the world, given the connection that environmental scientists have found between pollen amounts and carbon dioxide, given that ecology and population biology is never a simple equation with two variables, it seems to me that the answer to what is causing the herd decline is a complicated question that doesn’t lead itself to an easy answer. What exactly are the Kofa managers doing to examine the entire ecology, rather than just counting heads?
It isn’t that Kofa managers aren’t aware…at least, information taken from their website would lead me to believe that someone at Kofa was knowledgeable about this at one point:
Disease in bighorn sheep is most prevalent when animals are stressed and during severe drought. Multiple diseases may also combine to increase mortality. Bighorns seem particularly susceptible to respiratory problems like bacterial pneumonia. Pasturella, for example, can be carried by healthy domestic sheep and goats, but is deadly when transmitted to wild sheep. Scabies is another common disease easily transmitted to bighorns; it was responsible for a significant decline on San Andres NWR in 1978. Disease transmission from burros or horses to bighorn sheep has not been substantiated; however, isolated cases of transmission from cattle to bighorn sheep have been documented. Since the late 1800s, diseases transmitted by domestic sheep and goats have caused large, recurrent population-level declines in bighorn sheep throughout the western US. These declines have been well documented, and subsequent regulations restricting contact between domesticated and wild sheep have been enacted. It is imperative to keep any domestic sheep or goats well away from bighorn sheep range.
Chronic sinusitis is prevalent in bighorn sheep throughout Arizona. In severe cases, necrosis of the frontal bone and thinning of the braincase creates holes and abscessing in the brain, which is fatal. The leading theory for cause of this condition is bacterial infection secondary to necrotic bot fly larvae (Oestrus ovis), which are deposited in the nostrils of bighorn sheep. Evidence of chronic sinusitis has been common in the Kofa bighorn sheep herd, though it appears to be less prevalent now than during the 1980s and 1990s.
We already know how many sheep the hunters kill, as well as generally how many the lions have killed. The sheep herd dropped by almost 400 in the space of 2 years. We are to believe that the lions were killing 40 sheep per year, each? Let’s account for the hunters and make wild guesses as to the possible impacts of predation on the birth rate, and assume 20 sheep per year, by each of the 5 lions that had originally lived at Kofa, before two were killed in this past year. That still leaves us well below the 400 by which the herd dropped. If 20 per year is a normal amount for each lion, why are lions considered to be “offending” if they have killed two within six months?
Either four sheep per year is a more typical amount for each lion, in which case it is ludicrous to assign them blame for the reduction of the sheep herd size by 400, or Kofa management came up with a ridiculously low “allowed” meals on the part of the lions so that they could give a superficial appearance of not being anti-predator, and yet stacking the deck in favor of death to every lion on Kofa.
Ron has requested that we comment on the Yuma sun article and mark it as “recommended” to help keep this issue in people’s minds. You have to register in order to be able to comment, but anyone can “recommend” an article. Daniel Patterson has a quick blog post about this as well, with instructions on getting onto the mailing list to comment as part of the public process that will soon be started.