Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Editorial: Fate of neighborhood cougar bleak, at best - Oregon

It's a little surprising that Corvallis — bordered by Oregon State University's McDonald-Dunn Research Forest to the north and surrounded elsewhere by the city's greenbelt — doesn't have more conflicts with wild animals such as the young cougar that's been sighted in the northwest part of town.

But the troubling issue with this particular cougar — estimated by officials to be a year or so old and about 50 pounds — is that it isn't wary of humans.

And that almost certainly spells its death sentence. The harsh truth is, Nature is more often "red-fanged" than Disney-esque.

In a perfect world, this young cougar's mother would be providing for him and he would be heading for the deep woods.

That he seems comfortable enough around people to pose not once but twice for humans, be sighted numerous times and trying to catch house cats suggest he might even have been fed by humans (directly or indirectly) when he was a fuzzy blue-eyed cub who seemed harmless.

The clawed, fanged cougar is no cub now. Even the sympathetic do not want to share their yards with him.

He's been sighted within 300 yards of Wilson Elementary School. That's unacceptable. But officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife don't have a lot of good options.

Trapping is the best bet, but that's a problem because the cougar is frequenting a patchwork of small private plots, and officials need permission to be there.

Trapping wouldn't give the cougar a new lease on life: State law prohibits relocating a problem animal, even to deep wilderness. That fate likely would mean slow death by starvation to a young cougar whose inability even to hunt in the wild indicates he has no survival skills or the instinct to stay hidden.

That's what prompted ODFW biologists to theorize that he was orphaned. So, once trapped, this cougar's short life probably will end quickly.

None of this bodes well for the young interloper whose fate is all but sealed.

Its only hope is pretty unlikely: If a refuge or zoo of some kind offers the young cougar sanctuary, it could be relocated. But the reality here is harsh as well: Too many cougars (many adopted as cubs) fill such places, and too few people willing to support a cat that requires five to seven pounds of raw meat a day.

We won't ever know exactly what happened to bring the young, unwanted cougar among us. But his story underlines one of the facts of living in an area like this that we sometimes forget: Wildlife is not here for our amusement. The cougar is not a neighborhood amenity.

Imagine if the cougar in its initial contacts with human neighborhoods had instead gotten the idea to steer clear.

Parents in northwest Corvallis wouldn't be nervously guarding children today. ODFW biologists wouldn't be trying to figure out which of their limited options might work best.

http://www.gazettetimes.com/articles/2009/04/22/news/opinion/5edi01_cougar042209.txt

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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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