Unlike OR-7, the much-watched Oregon wolf whose wanderings have captured the public’s attention (OR-7 has his own website: http://or7expedition.org/), the mountain lion in science writer William Stolzenburg’s Heart of a Lion has no name. Nor is there a happy ending to his story—in June 2011, the 140-pound mountain lion (Puma concolor, cat of a single color) was killed on a parkway in Connecticut, where his like had not roamed for more than a century.
But don’t let the tragic demise of this amazing wild creature stop you from reading Stolzenburg’s book. He uses his considerable journalistic skills to piece together the fascinating story, enabling readers to become witnesses to the “remarkable journey of one lone, impassioned cat,” a trip, it turned out, that was the farthest land trek ever recorded for a wild animal in America.
In a way, the mountain lion’s public end (scientists speculate that other mountain lions heading east are shot and not reported), helped researchers find his beginning: DNA testing confirmed that the wild cat hailed from the Black Hills of South Dakota. From there, the 3-year-old male set off across the Great Plains and the Mississippi River, through the Midwest, into northern forests, and finally, to Connecticut.
Like wolves, mountain lions are feared and often misunderstood. Heart of a Lion is also an impassioned call for less hunting, and more tolerance and protection for this versatile and elusive hunter, descendent of the ancient American cheetah. As a model, Stolzenburg points to California, which has rejected the zero-tolerance policies of other Western states.
And should there be other intrepid travelers like the mountain lion who ended his short life in Connecticut, they will not find themselves without informed and committed advocates. Christopher Spatz, who features prominently in Stolzenburg’s account, along with others interested in re-wilding mountain lions in the east, is part of the volunteer-run Cougar Rewilding Foundation. After reading Heart of a Lion, readers who wish to learn more can avail themselves of Stolzenburg’s extensive bibliography or visit www.cougarrewilding.org.