Why NOT to watch "Killer Cats"

Last night I decided to commemorate Eric's birthday by doing one of his favorite things; watching videos of puma captures. Eric filmed nearly all his lion captures. He would set his camera up on a tripod and aim it at his catch. He'd usually watch the video later that night, and then again when friends dropped by. He'd sit back with a budweiser in hand, start the video and give the audience a play by play of the capture along with a biography of the cat.

I'm the proud owner of capture videos of Grand Canyon pumas 1 through 9, though my video collection isn't limited to home movies. Eric was also featured in a few documentaries- one about trapping Snow leopards in Pakistan, and another Nat Geo film that was supposed to educate people about living with lions, according to what the producers led the National Park Service to believe. Its fairly evident from the title,"Killer Cats," that it may have veered in a new direction during post-production.

The feature opens with footage taken in a Mumbai. A family has just learned that they're daughter was attacked and killed by a leopard near her home. This is one of many such tragedies, the narrator explains, as this leopard has attacked 19 people this month, 14 of which are dead. Later he changes the death toll to 12, with no explanation. Maybe the other 2 came back to life?

In act two, we pan to southern California where we watch in horror as an attack on a mountain biker in Whiting Ranch is recreated to a tee. Well, almost. The shots of the lion are from other nature films, with the exception of the lion paws we see pressing against the woman's upper body during the attack, but those definitely came from the taxidermist. Presumably the same lion who attacked the female biker fatally attacked a male mountain biker earlier that day. According to authorities, this was the 13th such incident in California in a period of over 100 years, but this is not mentioned in the film.

The third scene was filmed in the Santa Monica National Recreation Area. It stars Eric York, professional wildlife capture specialist, and his team of NPS biologists. The camera crew films them as they capture the last known male mountain lion in the Santa Monicas at the time, P1. The park service has been monitoring his movements with a GPS collar since 2002 so they can acquire valuable information about his movements, home range, diet, and the threats that he faces. They will also analyze his movements in relation to human developments, roads, and trails. It is a rare opportunity to learn how, or if, mountain lions can survive when their range is fully encircled by human developments.

When the capture scene is over, the narrator warns us that with this lion just outside of LA (forget that he's the last one), soon we could have a situation like that in Mumbai on our hands. Lions could eat us all. In fact, they assert, if mountain lions were to hunt humans as their sole food source, they would need to kill hundreds of people a day to survive.

This is redonkulous. I haven't studied leopard attacks on people so I can't discredit any of the claims made about the situation in Mumbai-- let's just say for arguments sake that their depiction of the situation is entirely true. Okay, then what does it have to do with mountain lions in North America? The answer is simple: nothing. nada, zip, zero, zilch.

These are completely different species of cats on different continents with different hunting strategies, habits, and histories. Not to mention that the conditions the people live in could not be more different. The villagers in Mumbai suffer from extreme socioeconomic circumstances that have forced them into shanty towns on the urban fringes of the city. They don't have doors, or even necessarily four solid walls around them. They're living in the wild, completely defenseless, smack dab in the territory of a big, and in some cases bold, feline.

Whereas in California, we're seeing more and more people recreating in areas inhabited by mountain lions-- which have been known to attack people on rare occasions. Don't get me wrong, mountain lion attacks are a serious matter. The incidents in Whiting Ranch depicted in this film are real, and should not be downplayed at all. The public should be made aware that recreating in the wild involves certain inherent risks, including that of being attacked by a wild animal such as a mountain lion. People living and recreating in areas where there are known mountain lion populations should be taught what to do in the event of an attack.

But people should not be misinformed by the rampant sensationalizing done by Fox TV, masters of misconstruing facts, under the name National Geographic. That's right, its not a reputable national geographic film at all, but was produced by their subsidiary, National Geographic Explorer, of which Fox owns two-thirds.

The filmmakers misrepresent mountain lions through and through. For example, the camera crew took footage of P1 snarling as Eric and his team approached during the capture. Lions snarl at people who approach them when they're trapped. He'd rather just run away, but he can't. It's not so much an aggressive as a defensive maneuver. Throughout the film they use this scene completely out of context over and over to depict mountain lions as terrifyingly aggressive, when actually the tables were turned at the time it was shot.

Killer Cats is an abomination. The parallels they try to draw in this film are outlandish, at best. It is the Jerry Springer version of a mountain lion documentary in which they try to overhype actual events and mislead the public. That they deceived Eric, his team, and the National Park Service in order to get upclose footage of a mountain lion -and then use it out of context- is terrible. Their exaggeration of the threats that mountain lions pose should be lent no credence. Shame shame shame.

Photo caption: Eric and a not-so-terrifying mountain lion (P12) at the Grand Canyon, 2007

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