Scientists subjected mountain lions in the California wilds to the voice of TheBlaze founder and radio show host Glenn Beck as the animals innocently attempted to eat their dinner. The actions were part of an experiment to see how apex predators truly reacted to fear.
According to the Washington Post, researchers from the University of California at Santa Cruz installed motion-sensitive cameras at the big cats' “kill sites” in various parts of Southern California, where they safely store the carcasses of their hunted prey for future meals. The moment a mountain lion triggered the cameras, a concealed pair of speakers would activate, assaulting the animal with a clip from Beck's radio show.
The Post reported that Beck wasn't the only person whose voice they used to scare the cats. Also pumped through the concealed forest speakers were other political talk show hosts such as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Republican talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Additionally, the mountain lions reacted with the same fear regardless of whether the voice was male or female.
Reports from the journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B" published on Tuesday said that few of the mountain lions were unafraid of the political talk show hosts' voices, with 80 percent of the apex predators fleeing the scene once voices were pumped though the speakers.
“It’s fun to watch them bound away, tails flying,” said UCSC ecologist Justine Smith, who led the experiment.
Smith told the Post that she did not horrify the defenseless hungry lions with Beck's dulcet tones arbitrarily. The overarching purpose of the experiment was to view how mountain lions, the top predator in their California domain, reacted to being removed from the top of the food chain in their area through the use of fear.
Humans are "superpredators," according to Smith, and she and her fellow scientists conducted the experiment to see if mountain lions reacted the same way to the presence of humans as many forest creatures react to the presence of mountain lions.
“We know they don’t like being around our developments, but it’s hard to know if they actually perceive humans as a direct threat,” Smith said, adding "they really should."
“We wanted to test directly if pumas fear the most benign form of human disturbance, our sound,” Smith said. “That would tell us if they actually fear humans themselves.”
According to ecologists, fear plays an important role in the shaping of the environment.
More from the Post about what scientists call the "landscape of fear":
Mountain lions are apex predators, positioned at the top of the food chain. Under normal circumstances, little frightens them. Rather, they are the ones who generate terror. Prey species — deer, raccoons, even coyotes — must keep their wits about them to avoid becoming a lion’s next meal. Wariness of predators makes these other species spend less time eating and more time hiding, watching or scurrying out of view.
The cascading effects of these behavioral changes can reshape an entire ecosystem: Plants that were once bitten down to stubs by grazing deer may rebound, small critters can find new homes and hiding spots in the restored foliage, the course of a stream may shift, the composition of the soil itself may change.
“Instead of the mountain lion instilling the landscape of fear, it’s a human playing that role,” Smith said. "It adds this element to the ecological community that’s throwing everything off."
While Smith and her team used political figureheads in their experiment, the purpose was to see how the cats acted toward humans overall.
“Pumas are nonpartisan in their hatred of American politics,” Smith joked.