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The UK tabloid the Daily Mail isn’t exactly known for its compassionate or nuanced take on the environment (or its journalistic respect for the facts), but a recent article celebrating a family that’s training their young children to murder cougars is beyond the pale. The paper tells the story of Shelby White, an 11-year-old whose claim to fame is shooting and killing an emaciated cougar that wandered onto her family’s property.

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While the family claims the cougar was stalking her 13-year-old brother and they feared he was in danger, the 4-year-old animal weighed only 50 pounds and appeared to be nothing but skin and bones in the photos the family took of Shelby posing with her trophy. The children’s grandfather, Bill White, claims that the boy’s father noticed the animal skulking in the direction of his children, but because Shelby was the only person in the family with a permit to legally kill the cougar, she had to step up to protect her brother. So her father handed her a rifle and sent her outside. Looking at the local laws, this story doesn’t add up.

In Washington state, where the family lives, it’s legal to kill a mountain lion if it’s threatening a human being, regardless of whether one has a permit — the catch, of course, is that the shooter must reasonably be able to argue that it poses an imminent risk of harm to themselves or another, and killing the animal must be the only way to resolve the situation.

In this case, the cougar in question was frail and probably sick — surely the boy could have come inside and a call to animal control could have resolved the situation. Either the White family didn’t think they could prove they were killing the animal legally and they wanted to avoid any scrutiny, or this family believes it’s appropriate to send an 11-year-old into imminent danger to fend off a dangerous wild animal. (Let’s not even dig too deeply into the fact that Washington state apparently thinks it’s appropriate and safe to give out licenses to hunt dangerous predators to children before they’re even allowed to drive.) While it’s a relief that neither of the children were hurt during the encounter, neither scenario paints a particularly flattering picture.

The sheer number of photos of the White children gleefully posing with dead cougars, deer, and other wildlife in the Daily Mail article makes it clear that this is not a story about self-defense. This is a story about a culture that teaches children it is okay to kill wildlife for the sheer pleasure of it. While it’s true that wild animals like mountain lions and bears are a very real and increasing threat in many parts of the US, the underlying issue is usually habitat destruction that pushes the animals into residential areas.

While the Daily Mail mentions in passing that the cougars are more aggressively entering human territory this year due to a shortage of deer to feed on, the paper never considers the role that people may have had on the deer population – and never mentions the fact that there are options other than killing to keep mountain lions away from people and livestock.

It’s true that as environmental destruction drives wildlife into conflict with humans, people should have the ability to protect themselves. Learning to hunt is not an inherent evil — it can help keep wildlife populations in check and protect local ecosystems, as well as provide a source of food which is less gruesome and more sustainable than meat from factory farms. But if children are going to be taught how to hunt animals, they also need to be taught to respect the lives they are taking. This is especially true of carnivores, which serve a hugely important function in keeping ecosystems balanced. We shouldn’t be celebrating unnecessary killing by parading photos of the carcasses for show.

Via Mail Online