Sometimes life just happens and a new experience changes a
person’s path in unimaginable ways.
Such is the case for writer and photographer Cara Blessley Lowe
who spent many years living in Laguna Beach. She now divides her time
between Los Angeles and Laguna -- when she’s not traveling for work.
The story of her devotion to save cougars and co-found the Cougar
Fund in 2001 with world-renowned wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen
is fascinating. It’s not a path she exactly planned but she’s happy
about what she calls a serendipitous event.
Blessley Lowe is a natural history writer and photographer, who
has traveled to India, East Africa, the Canadian Arctic and South
America, observing and documenting the great predators of the world.
She’s worked on several projects with Mangelsen and was the editor
of his book Polar Dance: Born of the North Wind, which was awarded
Best of Small Press at the 1997 Book Expo America.
Her path of the last few years started in 1999 when a family of
cougars appeared in the National Elk Forest in Jackson Hole where she
was living at the time.
She was an editor, producer and writer when this family of cougars
changed her life.
“A family of mountain lions in the National Elk Refuge is as close
as we have to a Serengeti. Cougars have never been photographed in
the wild for an extended period of time,” Blessley Lowe said.
Mangelsen took photographs for 39 of the 42 days they lived there
and submitted them to National Geographic who turned him down.
Blessley Lowe got to observe the mountain lion family for 10 days
before she had to leave on assignment.
“It was a totally incredible experience. You can’t imagine you are
seeing what you’re seeing. It’s surreal,” Blessley Lowe said.
She was inspired to document the experience.
“I told him I think we should think about doing a book on this. At
that point he had enough faith in my responsibility and his artistic
vision,” Blessley Lowe said.
She did a lot of research and as a result she found out some
statistics she didn’t find congruent to predator protocol.
“I was shocked to learn that the Game and Fish Department decided
to raise the number of mountain lions killed that year from five to
12,” said Blessley Lowe.
Her research had her speaking with the top cougar specialists and
ecologists in the country.
Blessley Lowe was aghast at what she learned about the killing of
“That’s when my book became an issue-oriented book,” she said.
“It’s an account of the facts of what has happened to the cougar and
the places they remain.”
The cougar, which was the largest ranging land mammal, is now
found in less than half of its range and in just 14 of the
continental United States.
She and Mangelsen were overwhelmed with the response to the book
and decided that they needed to organize a group to help the cougar’s
“That’s how we came up with the Cougar Fund. We wanted to figure
out a way to shed light on this flawed system,” said Blessley Lowe.
In drafting their mission they decided that they were going to be
the organization that deals with cougars throughout the U.S. Their
next project was a film. They were looking at different ways of
telling the story of the cougar.
“It’s wonderful historic footage of the mountain lion family. It’s
a way to tell that story and document the plight,” Blessley Lowe
She wanted all perspectives covered and spent a day with a hunter
who took her on a hunt knowing up front she was doing a movie.
A female cougar was shot in the hunt.
“That material I took became the single most powerful tool,”
Blessley Lowe said.
Naturalist Jane Goodall invited herself to be part of their Board
of Directors after she saw the film.
“The Cougar Fund is just getting started with grass roots
education and advocacy work,” she said.
The core team includes the nation’s top cougar ecologists, animal
behaviorists, field biologists and others well known in the field.
They are working on a second film and who better to narrate than
Goodall -- they are thrilled she will be the voice of the film.
On Sept. 18 there will be a benefit for the Cougar Fund and the
Jane Goodall Institute. There will be a presentation, silent auction
and artist exhibition from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. and also a VIP reception
from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
Goodall is coming for the event, as are Mangelsen and Blessley
Lowe. Local festival wildlife artists will participate in the
Tickets are $50 and up, and a supporting constituent recently
announced that they would match every dollar donated by 50 to 100%.
For more information about the Cougar Fund or benefit call (310)
402-0246 or go online to www.cougarfund.org.
The event will be held at the Festival of Arts grounds at 650
Laguna Canyon Road. Tickets are available by calling 1-800-225-2277
or online at www.tickets.com.
* SUZIE HARRISON is a reporter for the Laguna Beach Coastline
Pilot. She may be reached at 494-4321.