At first, Paddy McAloon thought he had to invent his own chords to write songs. As a result, the earliest music by his band Prefab Sprout can sound comical and haywire, like a jazz band entertaining themselves at a cocktail party before the guests arrive. He dreamed of writing songs that the whole world could sing along to—but he wanted to do it his own way. Four new vinyl reissues offer a thrilling survey of his journey as a pop songwriter. These reissues—which feature subtly improved artwork and sharp remasters from McAloon and his brother Martin—leave out but orbit around Steve McQueen , their masterpiece that remains the ideal entry point to their catalog.
It was a breakthrough for the band members, marking their first collaboration with producer Thomas Dolby, whose playful, surreal touch helped define their characteristic sound. Several of those songs predated Swoon , their scrappy debut, whose post-punk edge would be abandoned for a smoother, more sophisticated sound. The location surprised my office mates and me; the large cats were generally known to live in rugged, forested wilderness, not on prairies, and certainly not in Oklahoma.
John James Audubon produced this lithograph of a female mountain lion and her cub in the s after an expedition to the Missouri River. Mountain lions Puma concolor used to live throughout most of the Western Hemisphere, but declined after European settlement because of hunting and habitat loss.
Long confined to western North America, the wild cats are now beginning to show up in the Midwest and even on the East Coast. What might Eastern residents expect as more cats move in?
As it turns out, this poor cat changed my life. The kilogram, 2.
The Hall Opens “Anatomy of a Comeback”
The journey the cat took, according to its radio collar, led me to realize that only weeks before I learned about it, I may have shared the same space with that very cat—on the prairies of Kansas, of all places. I traveled in a van for nearly three weeks with 19 other students and two professors, searching for snakes, skinks, and other wildlife while learning about the grassland ecosystems of the mixed-grass prairies. Mountain lions were the last thing on our minds. Its journey of more than 1, kilometers represented, at the time, the longest dispersal distance ever recorded for a mountain lion.
It seemed that something was brewing and that this cat was an important clue. Fourteen months later, I was in the thick of figuring it out. This cat is the reason I have been studying the range expansion of mountain lions for more than a decade. Even though it was a surprise to hear about a cougar traversing the prairies of the midwestern United States in , it would not have been so surprising years ago. Mountain lions Puma concolor ; also called cougars , pumas , or catamounts historically roamed most of the Western Hemisphere, and had one of the largest ranges of any mammal in the world.
But because of bounty hunting and habitat loss during European settlement of North America, cougars were extirpated from the eastern and midwestern portions of the continent and were pushed to exist almost exclusively in the rugged wilderness of the American and Canadian West. In the s, however, wildlife management by states in the West reclassified cougars. No longer categorized as bountied predators, they became a managed game species, and that allowed populations to rebound substantially.
Since about , states east of the Rockies—from North Dakota to Michigan, down to eastern Texas and Louisiana—have been recording more cougars than at any time in more than a century. Even before the long-distance travel of the Red Rocks Cat was documented, the number of mountain lion sightings in the midwestern part of North America had been increasing slightly—and wildlife biologists took notice.
Why were we seeing a handful of cats in the Midwest? Were exotic pet owners releasing their captive animals into the wild? Or perhaps a remnant population of mountain lions existed in the heart of the Ozarks that had previously gone entirely undetected?
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Perhaps both scenarios were true. For the most part, individual cougars are nearly indistinguishable, their tracks particularly so, and with the rare exception of a collared animal, DNA testing is the only way to learn about the identity and source population of any cougar. One hypothesis was most plausible: dispersal by young adult males from the West. Wildlife biologists are figuring out how and why mountain lions are crossing the prairies, farmlands, roads, and rivers of the Midwest. With muscular legs, a long tail that acts as a counterbalance, and powerful jaws evolved for crushing the trachea of their ungulate prey, cougars are the perfect stalk-and-ambush predator.
Though best suited for terrain where hiding comes relatively easily, cougars are still an opportunistic species and are found in the deserts of Arizona and the forested mountains of British Columbia alike. Adult animals can vary substantially in size depending on geography, but in North America cougars measure about 0. From nose to tip of the tail, they are about 2. Their species name, concolor , is a reminder that their coat is only one color; they are not spotted like their jaguar or cheetah relatives—or like the animal that, by far, is most commonly mistaken for a cougar, the bobcat.
That the Red Rocks Cat had made its way to Oklahoma from the Black Hills of South Dakota lent further credence to the hypothesis that increased cougar presence in the Midwest was due to young adult dispersal. This incredible journey also showed, rather importantly, that it was not likely that escaped captive cougars were living in our midst unbeknownst to us. Any habitat patch can hold only so many cougars. So, where would they go? How would they get there?
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What might residents of the agriculture-dominated Midwest expect as time went on? These were the questions that I set out to answer as a new graduate student, in collaboration with a relatively new nonprofit research group: the Cougar Network. More than a decade before I or the Red Rocks Cat came onto the scene, three intrepid gentlemen were hatching a scheme on an internet listserv.
None of these fellows had background or education in wildlife biology, but they did have a passion for mountain lions. After years of sharing ideas and unlikely hopes of finding the elusive catamount somewhere out East, Bob Wilson, Ken Miller, and Mark Dowling finally met in person at an eastern cougar conference, in Morgantown, West Virginia, in the spring of They came away from the conference with the realization that something needed to be done to figure out where—or even whether—cougars were present in the East.
It was clear they needed to do it themselves. Over the ensuing decade, the team worked to connect with state and federal wildlife agencies, learning along the way how to sift through photos and how to document what was real and what was hearsay. Their founding ideology, which holds to this day, was that all information taken in had to be backed up with some kind of physical evidence: DNA, photos, video, or tracks, all of which have to be ground-verified by a local wildlife biologist before they can be included in the database.
The rationale for this rule is simple: Human memories and interpretation are not as reliable as we like to think they are. This photograph of a mountain lion passing through a culvert was taken by a trail camera in California. With the increasing number of imaging and tracking tools that have become available over the past few decades, wildlife biologists have been able to learn more about how these big cats travel within their territories and between habitats.
As it happened, it was precisely at this time that cougar populations out West were increasing and, little by little, dispersing from their western territories into the Midwest. Just as the team was putting together the framework for documenting these creatures, should they show up, the cougars were beginning to make their way back into their old haunts across the remainder of North America—and this team created the perfect protocol for proving that.
The Cougar Network has now verified an astounding occurrences of cougars and counting since in an effort to systematically determine long-term trends over approximately a third of the continental United States. To do so, the Cougar Network has come into its name, building a network of folks from different walks of life, all of whom contribute to learning about the potential for range expansion in the Midwest: members of the public, such as hikers, photographers, and hunters; staff at state and federal wildlife agencies; and university researchers.
When a photo is sent to the Cougar Network, it is first shared with our board members, the science advisor, and me, the executive director, to get our informed opinions on whether the photo should be pursued. In a very low percentage of instances, a photo seems to show a mountain lion. More often than not, confirmations in our database are added by talking regularly with state biologists, who receive even more photos and take in an astounding number of calls about cougars—far more than we do.
Finally, once all of the verification has been conducted, we add the confirmation to our database. Log out. Definitions Clear explanations of natural written and spoken English.
D.W., Queen of the Comeback
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