A high profile incident at the end of May put Washington’s secretive big cats back in the spotlight. This week on The Impact, state wildlife managers weigh in on cougar trends, how they respond to complaints, and safety tips if you run across a cougar that doesn’t run off.
“We receive a number of encounters every year and we track them all,” said Capt. Jeff Wickersham, WDFW Law Enforcement Program.
“Think about just a housecat and how they behave,” said Eric Gardner, WDFW Wildlife Program. “It could choose to run very quickly to chase something down or just pounce, also very quickly.”
“They’re a territorial animal,” said Gardner.
At the end of May a cougar attacked a 9-year-old girl playing hide and seek on the outskirts of a camp in northeast Washington.
The incident happened near Fruitland in Stevens County in broad daylight. The girl survived, but with serious injuries. Investigators say she and two other children were playing in the woods near the camp buildings when she jumped out to scare them and instead was jumped on by the mountain lion. Adults who rushed to the scene of the attack found and killed the cougar in the area.
In June of 2019 a cougar reportedly knocked down a 4-year old at Enchantment Park in Leavenworth, but the child escaped serious injury as the family dogs ran the mountain lion off.
In May of 2018 a cougar attacked two cyclists on a logging road in the North Bend backcountry of Snohomish county, killing one and severely injuring the survivor. Responding officials killed the cougar after it was found standing guard over the victim’s body. It was underweight, but otherwise healthy.
It was the first fatal mountain lion attack in the state since 1924 which reportedly involved a teenager in the Omak area. In the last 98 years there have been 20 reported cases of cougars injuring people including the two fatalities. State wildlife biologists say cougar attacks on people are exceedingly rare, but the topic of cougar related conflicts involving livestock, pets, and people is a source of heated debate in 2022, as well as the best policies to address them.
The WDFW is the state agency tasked with responding to cougar related problems and keeps track of reported sightings and incidents around the state.
Listen to the podcast here:
Guests: Captain Jeff Wickersham with the Washington Department Of Fish And Wildlife Law Enforcement Program and WDFW Wildlife Program Director Eric Gardner.