Pet mountain lions sound like an oxymoron, but after some funny tweeting by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the state, it seems, is asking whether such ownership is really a bad idea.
On Jan. 20, the government department tweeted a photo of a mountain lion lying in the snow with the caption "YOU are cold. They have fur. Do not let inside." The tweet was shared more than 22,000 times as Twitter users defied the advice and expressed an interest in petting or owning a mountain lion.
"My messaging is always 'Do not pet mountain lions,' and I was so scared that I was going to wake up in the morning and people, the whole Internet, had just decided that they were going to do it anyway," Sarah Southerland, the wildlife department's social media coordinator, told Live Science.
YOU are cold. They have fur. Do not let inside. pic.twitter.com/WrVIdF9mkhJanuary 20, 2022
The mountain lion tweet was inspired by a meme — usually an image with text that is shared around the internet — showing a mountain lion with the catchphrase: "If you're cold they're cold, bring them inside." This catchphrase was first used to encourage domestic pet owners to bring their pets inside during cold winter months, but internet users created parodies for things that are usually not kept inside, such as mountain lions, according to Know Your Meme, a website that researches and documents memes.
The wildlife department's tweet explained, in a playful way, that people shouldn't let mountain lions inside. When Twitter users started to playfully disagree in the comments, the tweet spread. "It was a slow burn and then once it picked up it was a wildfire," Darrin Hill, a producer for the wildlife department who came up with the original tweet, told Live Science.
More than 3,000 people commented on the post and thousands more responded in retweets. To fight back against people in favor of letting mountain lions inside, Southerland stayed up until 3 a.m. local time on Jan. 22 replying to comments with disapproving GIFs of the Ron Swanson character from the television show "Parks and Recreation" (2009-2015).
The current state of the union: pic.twitter.com/NqtvXWoapAJanuary 22, 2022
Southerland also Photoshopped pictures of fighting corgi dogs to illustrate her battle with Twitter users over mountain lion pet ownership. This culminated in her posting a montage of corgis, each expressing a different aspect of the mountain lion debate. "I did have to call my supervisor and tell her, 'Okay, look, this is what's going on and I think I need to add more corgis,'" Southerland said.
But did Twitter users really want to let mountain lions into their homes? "Most people I think know that they're not big house cats and they're very dangerous," Hill said. But he added that despite knowing it's a bad idea, people want to think that they might be able to keep such predators as pets.
Jerrod Davis, a senior wildlife biologist in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, noted that mountain lions are wild animals and keeping them as pets is illegal in Oklahoma. "Wild animals are unpredictable and confining them in your home can be extremely dangerous, both for the animal and for the human," Davis said. "They can take care of themselves far better than any human ever could."
Originally published on Live Science.
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Patrick Pester is a freelance writer and previously a staff writer at Live Science. His background is in wildlife conservation and he has worked with endangered species around the world. Patrick holds a master's degree in international journalism from Cardiff University in the U.K.