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Honoring a Cougar Researcher

Celebrating Maurice Hornocker’s Conservation Legacy With an Endowed Chair

Article by Kelsey Evans, CNR Editor
Photos and video provided by Maurice Hornocker and Wilbur Wiles

Cougars on the Cliff recounts the early years of Hornocker’s research in the late 60s and early 70s, when he tracked mountain lions following scent hounds and cat tracks in the snow, before telemetry was available. Hornocker was first to learn that mountain lions living in stable populations limit their own numbers through territoriality and a concept he called “mutual avoidance.” This insight flew in the face of long-held beliefs that cougars were prolific and wanton killers that needed to be controlled as vermin. Thanks to Hornocker’s work, today cougars can be found throughout the West and have even started to reclaim their place in the eastern United States. 

Alum Toni Ruth Reflects on Tribute

“Earlier this Fall, I spent a week in Moscow reveling in sharing stories and belly laughs with many friends and colleagues as we gathered to pay tribute to our mentor, friend and carnivore conservationist extraordinaire, Hornocker. I was so honored to serve on a small planning team of Hornocker Disciples including Dale Miquelle, Michael Tewes, Gary Koheler and Kathy Quigley, who worked with the College of Natural Resources to recognize the lifetime achievements and impact Maurice had on so many of us.

Maurice is a wildlife biologist best known for advancing knowledge of the elusive mountain lion’s behavior and ecology. During his 55 years of research in Idaho and around the world, he published numerous scientific papers and books. At U of I, he served as Unit Leader of the Idaho Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit from 1968-85, and also established the Hornocker Wildlife Institute in Moscow. 

A man sits in a tent and writes in a notebook.
Maurice Hornocker writes a notebook entry about the day’s data collections, hunts and discoveries. Credit: Maurice Hornocker.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to come under Maurice’s sphere of influence were imparted with wisdom, grace, a joy of life and the opportunity to do what he had done. Dale Miquelle

Titled ‘Where the Wild Things Roam: A Tribute to Dr. Maurice Hornocker,’ the three-day celebration, held Sept. 13-15, 2023, kicked off with Maurice and co-author David Johnson signing copies of Maurice’s memoir, ‘Cougars on the Cliff,’ at the Moscow Contemporary Art Center. It’s a page-turning read, and I encourage you to pick up a copy and settle in as you join Maurice and houndsman Wilbur Wiles on their ground-breaking, learning adventure of a lifetime studying cougars in one of the most remote places in the United States. 

Miquelle summed it up so well for all of us: ‘Those of us who were fortunate enough to come under Maurice’s sphere of influence were imparted with wisdom, grace, a joy of life and the opportunity to do what he had done: to imagine a wildlife study that others said could not be done, and then do it; to experience the fear of failure, the frustrations of fieldwork, the miracles of minor successes, the wonder of discovery and the battle to turn all of it into conservation success. Maurice gave all of us that rare opportunity to go into the wilds to discover something about an animal that was poorly known, and in the process, discover something about ourselves.’ 

 A book cover with a cougar, reading "Cougars on the Cliff."
Hornocker and Johnson’s book, “Cougars on the Cliff.” Credit: Wilbur Wiles.

In celebration of Maurice, we are so excited to announce the Maurice Hornocker Endowed Chair of Wildlife Conservation at U of I. We are thankful to the Richard King Mellon Foundation for their $1 million donation to honor Maurice and his legacy. With generous support from the Hornocker Disciples and their worldwide connections and influence, we are now underway to complete the $3 million endowed chair to honor Maurice for generations of student impact. We hope that you will join us by sharing this opportunity and considering a giving plan that matches your personal and financial goals.

To learn more about making a gift, contact Mary Ellen Brewick, Director of Development for CNR.

I’m still reflecting on the time we spent together catching up and honoring Maurice’s legacy. It’s a moment in time that I’m grateful for and I’m filled with memories I won’t forget!” - Toni Ruth, Doctorate, Wildlife Science ’04.

Campus Locations

Physical Address:
Bruce M. Pitman Center
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264

Phone: 208-885-6111

Fax: 208-885-9119