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Integrated Stress and Community Perceptions: Toward an Understanding of Human-Cougar Tolerance

By Lara Brenner

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Evidence suggests that cougars (Puma concolor) are beginning to recolonize their traditional range in the Midwestern and Eastern US, returning to a landscape and a social environment that have changed drastically in a century of absence. Any hope of the cougar’s persistence depends on both human tolerance of their presence and on cougar tolerance of disrupted habitat. In this thesis, we took advantage of diverse cougar policy in place in the Western US to explore variation in human attitudes and acceptability of cougars and in the cougar stress response. We validated a process to identify and extract cortisol from cougar hair and examined relationships between cougar stress and intrinsic, environmental, and anthropogenic variables. We also validated a definition of human tolerance adapted from the sociological literature – “putting up with wildlife and wildlife behaviors you don’t like” – and tested its fit on data gathered from a social survey of rural communities in the West. After operationalizing tolerance, we explored whether permitting cougar hunting was likely to improve tolerance among the general public. In Chapter 2, we found that age class, season, precipitation, human population density, and hunting all significantly influenced cougar hair cortisol content, with cougars demonstrating higher cortisol when hunted and when inhabiting areas of lower human density. In Chapter 3, we identified four distinct typologies characterized by attitudes toward and acceptability of cougars among the general public – the “enthusiastic,” the “pragmatic,” the “intolerant,” and the “tolerant.” Finally, in Chapter 4, we found that while the general public had high attitudes and acceptability of cougars, hunters in California, where cougar hunting is banned, were intolerant of cougars compared to hunters elsewhere. Wildlife managers in eastern states should be aware that cougars do physiologically respond to anthropogenic disturbance and that hunters may chafe under restrictive cougar hunting regulations.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 129
Publisher University of Montana
Department College of Forestry and Conservation
Degree Master of Science
Language English
University University of Montana
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Cortisol
  3. Cougars
  4. Human-animal interactions
  5. human-wildlife interactions
  6. open access
  7. Stress
  8. surveys
  9. tolerance
  10. Wild animals
  1. open access