Cougar sightings are no cause for alarm

Published on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 by Brandy Shreve

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Seeing a cougar may be a rare and unexpected treat for many outdoor enthusiasts who travel the backcountry, but seeing one in your backyard is a whole different story.

Birch Bay and Custer residents have been reporting that they have caught glimpses of the lithe cats in the past month or two, with one Facebook user reporting that a goat had become prey.

This recent rash of cougar sightings has resulted in much talk on social media, but little in the way of actual reports, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manager Ryan Valentine. 

“We’ve had three or four calls about it,” Valentine said, “but none from any of the people who have had a cougar kill or a confirmed sighting.”

Valentine said it is not unusual for these sleek and graceful hunters to be in our area, it’s just unusual for them to be seen. 

“They’re high on the food chain,” Valentine said. “But they’re shy and don’t really want anything to do with us.” 

Cougars, or mountain lions, are the largest members of the cat family in North America. Adult males average approximately 140 pounds, but may weigh as much as 180 pounds and measure 7–8 feet long from nose to tail. Adult males stand about 30 inches tall at the shoulder. Adult female cougars are generally about 25 percent smaller than males. Cougars vary in color from reddish-brown to tawny to gray, usually with a black tip on a long tail.

Adult male cougars roam widely, covering a home range of 50 to 150 square miles, depending on the age of the cougar, time of year, type of terrain and availability of prey. Those showing up in populated areas are likely juveniles who are learning to hunt and have lost their way. “Cougars like those you see in Birch Bay are typically young cats who were tracking prey, such as deer, in the dark and not paying attention to their surroundings,” Valentine said. “Or they’ve just been kicked out of their den and are learning to hunt and a goat or a sheep is an easy target.” 

Valentine said merely seeing a cougar is not cause for alarm, but the sighting should be reported nonetheless. “What I’m interested in is their behavior,” he said. “I want to know if they are doing something out of the ordinary – but unless it’s being aggressive or doing something unusual it’s not a real problem.”

There are no concrete numbers on how many cougars live in Whatcom County, but Valentine said there is a large population. “They’re hard to keep track of,” he said. “Even our experts can’t give an exact number because the animals are so mobile.”

If you see a cougar, or think you see a cougar, don’t panic. Call 911 or state patrol at 360/676-2076 and report the sighting so officials can determine if the cat in your backyard is truly a threat. Monitor the animal and see what its behavior is, and then give as much detail as you can. “The more information I have, the better,” Valentine said. “Then we can determine if it needs to be relocated or not.” He is especially interested in any information related to suspected cougar kills. “Timeliness is important with those,” he said. “The more remnants I can find, the better I am able to determine whether or not a cougar was actually involved.”

More information about living harmoniously with cougars can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/living