A Wilder View: The difficulties of mountain lion conservation

Posted at 2:18 PM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-04 16:18:59-04

MISSOULA — Mountain lion, puma, or cougar these are all names of the same species.

This edition of A Wilder View looks at how the conservation of mountain lions may be hindered because they have so many common names.

A notification can pop up on your phone immediately. Given the speed with which information moves across networked devices -- and the immense volume of information being shared today -- word choice is more crucial than ever in effective communication.

Scientists have used popular news and social media channels for public outreach and education on new wildlife research.

Mountain lions are one of the most notable species to have conservation efforts obscured because they have so many common names. They actually hold the Guinness World Record for the animal with the most common names.

The names we are probably most familiar with are mountain lion, cougar or puma. However, the English language alone holds over 40 common names. Names like catamount or mountain screamer.

But all of these names fall under the same species. The mountain lion’s many vernacular names creates an abundance of misleading “noise.”

Researchers found that using the terms puma or panther resulted in higher cultural prominence. Meaning most people affiliated with these terms more. However, if you were searching for correct scientific information searching mountain lion yielded the best results.

Researchers have also highlighted the need for increased public education about the positive roles mountain lions play in natural ecosystems. Advocating for proactive outreach strategies to offset negative coverage that spikes following conflicts between mountain lions and humans, pets or livestock.

Awareness of noise will help scientists become more effective communicators and will also create opportunities to use the influx of popularity attributed to wildlife to improve public understanding.

Essentially when scientists become notified of one word being more popular than another like the name mountain lion giving better results than puma, they can then promote research and conversation of a species with incredible visibility.

It’s important to note that geographic preference for different names can complicate things. As mountain lions exist in North and South America the different languages between continents can cause discrepancies.

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