Americans are obsessed with heavy issues these days, from the recent election to COVID-19 vaccines and the challenges of the new year.
It’s no wonder we’re fascinated by Squeaks, the young male mountain lion that recently trekked 560 miles from Santa Ana Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, through the Durango area and all the way to Mesa Verde National Park.
Just in case you missed the initial story (reported by Jim Mimiaga of The Journal staff and reprinted in The Durango Herald) Squeaks, who is a year or two old, was fitted with a GPS tracking collar by the pueblo’s natural resources staff in February.
The pueblo has posted information and a video of Squeaks having a drink – at a watering trough set up and monitored by a Colorado Parks and Wildlife camera – on its Pueblo of Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources Facebook page. They named the lion “Squeaks,” according to Glenn Harper, Santa Ana’s manager of range and wildlife, because as he awakened from the sedation necessary to collar him, he started making squeaky “contact calls” for other mountain lions.
It turns out that Harper, a wildlife biologist, knows a lot about Squeaks.
“We had a dominant male in the area, and I’m pretty sure he sired Squeaks,” Harper said. “Squeaks looks a lot like him, doesn’t have a big blocky head like some toms. But his dad got killed on Highway 550 in June.”
After he was collared, Squeaks reunited with his mother and a female sibling and they began traveling together again. Eventually, he started making three- or four-mile treks away from them, returning, then taking off again. Mountain lions disperse in order to find available territory, a good prey base and mates.
The GPS collar documents Squeaks’ whereabouts every two hours, and twice a day uploads a map Harper checks to track the youngster’s progress. Squeaks left pueblo lands July 5, made his way north, and swam across two, 300-yard “fingers” of Navajo Lake in order to continue. He skirted Ignacio, visited the Florida River south of Durango and made several tries at crossing U.S. Highway 550 before finding a safe path via an underpass.
After bypassing Mancos, Squeaks is now “bouncing between Mesa Verde and Ute Mountain Ute territory,” Harper said.
“What strikes me about Squeaks is that his is a journey story,” said J.V. Fuqua, associate professor of media studies at Queens College in New York City. Fuqua has studied the popularity of wildlife cameras and animals on social media.
“But that’s what makes it interesting – not just what the animal is doing, but how it’s meaningful to us.”
Betty Dorr, professor of psychology at Fort Lewis College, said Speaks’ short forays away from his family and back again echo those of young humans.
“Kids and all sorts of mammals, before they emigrate, they go out, check out the environment, get a broader knowledge base,” before finally leaving home, Dorr said.
Focusing even for a bit on Squeaks’ story can relieve us of some of the suffering we have all experienced during 2020.
After all, Squeaks is free, wild, exploring. Squeaks’ life is unfolding as it should – at a time when ours may seem stuck, stunted, stultified. We can see his journey as a hero’s quest, and perhaps recall how we have managed to survive adversity.
Will Squeaks survive? Will he make Mesa Verde his lifelong home? Will he have to fight a bigger, more experienced tom to stake out his own territory? Will he find true love?
Harper is hoping Squeaks will find his forever home on tribal or parks lands, where he won’t be killed by hunters.
Dorr spoke for us, too, when she said, “We’re all rooting for him.”