I grew up catching animals of all sorts. I kept buckets full of jumping spiders, turtles and snakes. At five-years-old, under the careful instruction of my grandfather, I miraculously caught a rabbit in a flimsy butterfly net attached to the end of a bamboo shoot. After parading it proudly about the house, I released it where I’d caught it several hours before. At seven, I was rushed to the hospital brandishing a feral rat bite; I’d saved it from my dogs after they’d pulled it from a woodpile along a red clay creek in Oklahoma. It was the latest in a string of varied animal bites, and so I was lectured by two doctors who told me to stop approaching wild animals. Unabashed, I informed them that when I grew up I wanted to be a scientist like Jane Goodall, surrounded by wild creatures.
It’s not in every country that one can dream big, and pursue that dream until it becomes reality. Here I am, 40 years later, still catching animals—though now they’re larger and with bigger teeth.
Today, I’m just as captivated by wildlife and science as ever, if not more. For me, science is about creative thinking—it’s the freedom to ask good questions and seek better answers. Science has led to such monumental human feats as flying (without feathers) and walking on the moon. Many of my heroes are scientists.
Here at Panthera, science has allowed us to challenge what we thought we knew about mountain lions. When scientists placed satellites in space and developed Global Positioning System (GPS) technology that allowed us to follow mountain lions in near real time, we realized how little we knew about the distances they traveled, how frequently they hunted, or how often they interacted with each other.
When scientists invented motion-triggered video cameras that allowed us to record the secret lives of mountain lions, we witnessed playful, intimate family groups, rather than solitary killing machines.
We worked with geneticists to learn which mountain lions were relatives and which were unrelated. And applied mathematicians developed methods for us to determine how mountain lion populations changed over time so that we might collaborate with state agency biologists to improve mountain lion management. Science supports everything we do.
Tomorrow, I March for Science: for the right to ask creative questions, and for the privilege our amazing country affords me to pursue science boldly. I march for my children, and all children, to ensure they have the chance to grow up catching animals in a world where wildlife and science are celebrated and protected. I march for mountain lions. And I march for the students studying alongside me—bright-eyed, curious, and full of determination to make a difference in the world. They remind me that my love for science bloomed in nature’s beautiful and sometimes brutal embrace, and that we need to be fearless to forge new paths in both science and life.