Image: Don Debold
Deer inadvertently kill a staggering 200 people every year — that’s more than bears, sharks, and alligators combined.
A robust deer population unfortunately means that many of them will end up in the roadways, resulting in over 1 million annual collisions. Wow.
What can be done? Researchers suggest boosting the population of a top predator, the eastern cougar.
Two wildlife scientists, Laura Prugh of the University of Washington and Sophie Gilbert of the University of Idaho, argue that the return of cougars to their historical range could keep deer out of the road. In fact, they estimate that by doing so, 155 deaths and 21,400 injuries could be prevented over a 30 year span. Not only that, we could pocket $2.3 billion in vehicle damages and medical bills.
Cougars kill hundreds of deer throughout their lifetimes, so bringing them back to the 19 states with large deer populations could significantly reduce collisions.
While an increase in the cougar population could resort in some human deaths, researchers estimate that this number would be much lower than those that would be saved, at below one per year.
Cougars were completely wiped out in eastern North America in the beginning of the 20th century due to hunting and habitat encroachment. The cats continue to survive in the west and in portions of Canada, and a small subpopulation exists in Florida.
It’s possible that the cougars may one day rebound on their own, but habitat for them is extremely limited. Should we intervene?