We're just days away from the launch of Deadly Animals in the UK, and The Book Depository was kind enough to let me write about the book's beginnings. I'll paste on extract below, but follow the link for the whole article.
"Victorian writers had no doubt that cougars were dangerous to humans. Some of their accounts, like an 1860 bit of fiction by Harriet Prescott Spofford, reek of melodrama. Spofford's "Indian devil," as the animal was often called at the time,has "breath like a vapor from some hell-pit." It stands in for Satan himself, causing the heroine trapped in its claws to engage in all manner of theology before escaping. (If you ever find yourself trapped in the claws of a cougar, a better strategy is to gouge the eyes. Eye-gouging beats theology every time.) Nonetheless, Spofford's story reveals some understanding of real cougars. She knew, for example, that a cougar can lick the skin from its prey with its "rasping tongue." And there are true accounts from that era, including one from the meticulous Charles Darwin, attesting that cougars occasionally ate people."