Watch out, residents of Salem, Oregon. Be warned. Danger is afoot in city parks, including the popular Minto-Brown Island park which has almost 900 acres of open and wooded areas, with many trails.
People and dogs have been sighted in the park! So be extremely cautious around them. These pose the greatest risk to you.
Cougars, not nearly so much.
So don't worry about a recent cougar sighting at the Minto-Brown Island park. Focus on the much greater danger you face from two other species: Homo sapiens and Canis familiaris, people and dogs.
I've done some research to quantify the relative risk of being killed by (1) a person, (2) a dog, and (3) a cougar. These United States statistics cover 2001-2010, the previous ten years.
There were 162,230 homicides during that decade, an average of 16,223 per year. In 2010, ninety percent of the killers were men, according to the FBI. Fifty-three percent of murder victims were killed by someone they knew; a quarter were slain by a family member.
The lesson: if you spot a man in a park, be fearful. Especially if you know him. Males you've met before are the most dangerous killing creatures any human will ever encounter.
Dogs are considerably less likely to kill you. Still, 263 people were slain by dogs over the last ten years, an average of 26 per year.
What about cougars?
Most people are more afraid of cougars than of their fellow humans or dogs. But they shouldn't be. Cougars killed just 3 people in the United States from 2001-2010. That's an average of .3 per year.
So you're 54,000 times more likely to be killed by a person (probably a man) than by a cougar. And you're 87 times more likely to be killed by a dog, than by a cougar. This is why, if you value your life, people and dogs should be feared much more than cougars.
Unfortunately, irrationality reigns when it comes to wildlife. Why? Seemingly because they're wild. We're used to seeing men and dogs in parks. Cougars are rare, so people freak out when one is sighted.
Today's Salem Statesman Journal had a great letter to the editor on this subject from Linda Bierly. I heartily agree with her. Thanks for stimulating this blog post, Linda.
Regarding the recent possible cougar sighting in Minto-Brown Island Park, while it is always prudent to be aware of one's surroundings, cougars have not demonstrated a threat to humans in Oregon.
Top predators such as cougars and wolves are critical to ecosystems. Without these keystone species, ecosystems collapse and degrade. Lack of top predators is the true threat to all species.
Park visitors have much more to worry about from other threats surrounding parks, including the drive to the park, other human park users, off-leash dogs and especially, inadequate funding for Salem city parks.
— Linda Bierly, Salem