far this year from non-hunting causes. That sat at 20 last week and included 11 “problem” cats killed by GF&P or police, three killed in similar situations by members of the public, three hit by vehicles, two lions killed by other lions and one death from undetermined causes.
Bulle said there is nothing in that data that leads him to believe the lion population is going down. If the non-harvest mortality continues this year as it did the latter months of 2011, another 21 lions could be added to the morality list.
That would bring the non-hunting mortality total to 41 for the year, compared to 44 in 2011, 51 in 2010, 37 in 2009 and 36 in 2008. Although it would be down slightly from the past two years, 41 would still be above the previous two.
“If we harvest 76 or 77 lions, and the non-harvest (other than permitted hunting) mortality stays up there similar to last year’s number, it is more indicative of a growing population than a declining population,” Bulle said. “If the population were truly declining, substantially increasing hunter harvest should likewise substantially decrease non-harvest mortality.”
Kanta said the mortality figures are valuable for tracking a population over the long term. One or two years, however, don’t necessarily mark the beginning of a trend. GF&P uses the mortality data, including the collared cat kill during the season, plus other data, including litter size and kitten survival rates, to estimate population and get an idea of the trend.
And Kanta said that mix shows a downward trend.
The next population estimate by GF&P will be made after the 2013 season — which will actually start in late December this year. But that estimate will essentially be retroactive to an effective date before the 2013 season.
Meanwhile, the debate goes on, with some critics of the lion season fearing that the future of the cat is suffering while biology is being overridden by emotions and politics.
“Figures can lie and liars can figure,” said Dean Flage of Sturgis, a retired military man with a degree in wildlife and fisheries. “This lion thing isn’t about biology any more. It’s pure politics.”