This article is connected to a larger work centered on the possibility of reintroducing cougars to the Northeast. View it here.
What makes a man decide to devote the majority of his scholarly career to a single species?
John Laundré, a visiting instructor at SUNY Oswego and vice president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, admits that he “fell into it.”
“I grew up wanting to study wild animals. To study a large predator was a dream,” Laundré said. A particular influence was 1960s host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” Richard Marlin Perkins.
Laundré decided on wildlife ecology as his profession, studying at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, Northern Michigan University, and at Idaho State University for his Ph.D. At ISU, he studied coyotes for his dissertation.
The idea of studying cougars came up when a few friends broached the topic with Laundré. “It started with a couple friends of mine who wanted to look at cougar ecology in an area like this one, where there are small mountain ranges and people,” Laundré said. “Very little had been done with that so far. They were still looking at them [cougars] in wilderness areas.”
He told them to keep him in mind if they needed assistance with fieldwork, and got his wish a year later when a Master’s student working on the project quit. Laundré and his friends trapped and collared their first cougar in the winter of 1996.
“So I fell into it, just pure luck,” Laundré said.
Since that time, Laundré has devoted a number of articles to his favorite Felidae. He studied cougars and black-tailed jackrabbits in Mexico before returning to the United States with his wife and Director of the Rice Creek Field Station, Lucina Hernandez. In 2009, they wrote a section on “Pumas in Latin America” in “Cougar: Ecology and Conservation.”
Laundré’s first book, “Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest” is out April 19.