ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Some animal protection groups are calling the New Mexico Tourism Department’s ‘cougar cam’ in Edgewood ‘ironic’ and ‘hypocritical’ with changes ahead, voted on by the state’s Game Commission, that will lax cougar trapping regulations.

With just a few clicks, anyone on the Internet can tune in to a live feed from Edgewood’s Wildlife West. The camera stars are “Zia” and “True” — two Cougar kittens that were found in traps last year near Wagon Mound and had to be rehabilitated.

One had a broken leg and their mother was found dead. They were too young to fend for themselves.

As emotion-invoking as their story might be, Animal Protection of New Mexico and the Humane Society of the United States both say it’s ironic that the state would promote the kittens and their story.

“It’s one thing to appreciate a cute animal, but if you really have sympathy for the fact that they were injured in a trap…then you need to rethink deeply on unpopular, scientifically unsound and illegal, frankly, policies that are going to expand trapping,” Nicholas Arrivo, a staff attorney for the Humane Society of the United States, told News 13 in a phone interview.

Arrivo is referring to the upcoming changes to Cougar trapping regulations in New Mexico. Last August, the Game Commission voted to allow trapping on an additional 9 million acres of state land. They also voted that hunters will no longer need permits to trap on private land.

The trapping expansion goes into effect on Nov. 1 of this year for the season.

“It’s very concerning,” Jessica Johnson, with Animal Protection of New Mexico, said. “You can set a trap for a cougar, but a trap will clamp down on the first thing that steps into its jaws.”

For example, it’s illegal in our state to trap kittens and mothers with kittens. Yet, it still happened to “Zia” and “True.”

“On one hand, the state is increasing the number of traps on New Mexico’s lands,” Johnson said. “And then on the other hand, they seem to be seem to be capitalizing on the fact that…one of the kittens was caught and injured by a trap.”

Game and Fish tells News 13 that the hunter who trapped the kittens was legally trapping on private land and “responded appropriately by contacting the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, which complies with the law.”

Johnson worries that even more animals that shouldn’t be trapped will fall prey to what she calls an “indiscriminate” and “cruel” form of hunting. Both Johnson and Arrivo say trapping should be banned on state lands altogether, like it is in some neighboring states.

APNM and HSUS have filed state and federal lawsuits that target the Game Commission’s trapping expansion. The state suit focuses more so on kittens, mother cougars and other wildlife falling prey to the traps when they shouldn’t. It also says commission didn’t do enough research on the matter before voting on it.

The federal lawsuit alleges that the state is violating the Endangered Species Act, because the trapping expansion will put Mexican Wolves and Jaguars at risk.

News 13 reached out to Game and Fish and the Tourism Department for comment on the matter of the cougar cams.

Game and Fish responded:

A New Mexico trapper who was legally trapping on private property near Wagon Mound captured two orphaned lion cubs over the course of two days last December. The trapper responded appropriately by contacting the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish after he determined the mother was not present and the cubs were too young to survive on their own. The cubs were transported to the Wildlife Center in Española where one of them was treated for a foot injury. Although Game and Fish Officers are investigating, they have not yet determined if the mother had abandoned the cubs or if she died prior to their capture. The young lions are now living at their new permanent home at the Wildlife West Nature Park, a wildlife sanctuary located in Edgewood. The efforts of everyone involved will ensure the lions receive ongoing veterinary care and will provide a unique educational opportunity for the people of New Mexico and visitors to the state.

The state Tourism Department responded:

With the popularity of wildlife cameras, we saw this as an opportunity to educate the public about New Mexico’s wildlife.

The Cougar camera can be viewed here.