Late one June night in 2011, a large animal collided with an SUV cruising down a Connecticut parkway. The creature appeared as something out of New England's forgotten past. Beside the road lay a 140-pound mountain lion.
Speculations ran wild, the wildest of which figured him a ghostly survivor from a bygone century when lions last roamed the eastern United States. But a more fantastic scenario of facts soon unfolded. The lion was three years old, with a DNA trail embarking from the Black Hills of South Dakota on a cross-country odyssey eventually passing within thirty miles of New York City. It was the farthest landbound trek ever recorded for a wild animal in America, by a barely weaned teenager venturing solo through hostile terrain.
William Stolzenburg retraces his two-year journey--from his embattled birthplace in the Black Hills, across the Great Plains and the Mississippi River, through Midwest metropolises and remote northern forests, to his tragic finale upon Connecticut's Gold Coast. Along the way, the lion traverses lands with people gunning for his kind, as well as those championing his cause.
Heart of a Lion is a story of one heroic creature pitting instinct against towering odds, coming home to a society deeply divided over his return. It is a testament to the resilience of nature, and a test of humanity's willingness to live again beside the ultimate symbol of wildness.
In this short but wide-ranging book, Stolzenburg (Rat Island) traces the lone odyssey of a single male mountain lion across the United States, culminating in June 2011 in Connecticut with the cat's demise on a motorist's fender. The book more broadly examines the current population of the mountain lions of South Dakota's Black Hills, where the titular cat originated. The evidence of his eastward journey is presented sporadically throughout the text, with a live sighting here and a trail camera video there, as well as various clues of tracks and scat. Stolzenburg intersperses cougar history into the narrative, stretching back to prehistoric times and forward through to the early 21st century. He profiles humans who interact with these big cats, such as researcher and advocate Chris Spatz of the Eastern Cougar Foundation, and even conspiracy theorists who believe the government is secretly airlifting cougars into the eastern U.S. to control deer populations. Stolzenburg's prose occasionally misses the mark; his description of famed cougar hunter Ben Lilly reads more like a tall tale, and elsewhere his writing veers toward hyperbole ("Eastward before him lay the black abyss of alien prairie").