‘Path of the Puma’ hits shelves Oct. 9

By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor

BOZEMAN – In the face of burgeoning human development and a changing climate, many wild animals are under threat. And yet wildlife biologist Jim Williams has overwhelmingly positive news: mountain lions, the ghost cats of the mountains, are thriving.

In his debut book, “Path of the Puma,” which is set for release on Oct. 9 by Patagonia Books, Williams describes this conservation success as an “unlikely story, because it is a very lonely exception to the rule. Big, wild cats worldwide are in trouble, threatened and endangered. … And yet, the mountain lions of North America and the pumas of South America are thriving, dispersing and expanding and rewilding entire continents.

“They are beating the odds,” he continues. “They are hope for those of use who believe our future will depend, in large part, on finding the wild.”

Williams’ book is an ecological exploration into the success of the mountain lion, drawing from his 25-year career as a wildlife biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Ecological concepts are embedded in adventure stories throughout the pages of “Path of the Puma,” beginning with North American explorations and ending with his work with Partners of the Americas in Chile and Argentina. Captivating tales are accompanied by striking images of wild mountain lions in natural habitats, as well as shots of the many other wild animals with which the cats share homes.

Puma concolor, otherwise known as the mountain lion or puma, is one of Earth’s most elusive creatures. This lion was photographed in Argentina. PHOTO BY DARIO PODESTA

Initially working in the Bob Marshall Wilderness on the Rocky Mountain Front, Williams’ interest in the elusory mountain lion has taken him south all the way to the Patagonian tip of Argentina and Chile. He’s relocated caribou in mountain lion habitat in British Columbia, watched a lion stalk Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, touched spotted puma cubs not two weeks old, and scrutinized the southern cat’s favorite meals: Magellanic penguin, guanaco and vicuña.

“Patagonia is like a magical place,” Williams said. “The landscape is similar [to Montana,] but you can feel how far away from home you are.”

Speaking of the writing process, Williams said he and the editors from Patagonia Books worked tirelessly over the course of five years. “I have a whole new, profound respect for writers,” he said.

“Path of the Puma” is one of a collection of conservation books published by Patagonia, and Williams is proud to be a part of a larger dialogue captured in print. “In this digital world, it’s great to see a company that cares so much about hardbound books.”

Puma concolor is known by many names—mountain lion, cougar, panther, ghost cat, mountain cat—but Williams says his favorite name is “puma,” a word derived from the Quechua language that simply means “powerful animal.”

This stealthy creature has been found across both Americas, from Canada’s Yukon Territory, all the way to the southern-most tip of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and Chile.

In his book, Williams posits an answer to the question of why lions are not only surviving, but thriving, while other animals are not. He suggests that it’s to do with their stealth. Perhaps, he writes, it’s because they aren’t seen.

“I think what’s most fascinating to me, and the most terrifying, is that if mountain lions are thriving, if the reason is that we can’t see them, what happens if we have more technology and can see them? What happens then?” he said.

Today, Williams serves as FWP’s Northwestern Regional Supervisor, where he oversees about 100 people based near Kalispell, Montana, in the Flathead Valley. Throughout Williams’ career, he’s particularly enjoyed working on the ground with people.

“My entire career and my interest and my skillset could be defined by one word: people,” he said. “Mountain lions have always been part of it; I need to find the wild … but I’m not a loner; I need to find people.”

He added that his work in local communities gives him hope for conservation. “I think information is very powerful for folks. … That type of conservation is durable and it lasts,” he said.

“Path of the Puma” will be available beginning Oct. 9 in bookstores and online. An early release of the book is available at patagonia.com. Visit pathofthepuma.com to learn more.