Friday, April 24, 2009

Oregon: Push to save young cougar grows

By KYLE ODEGARDFor the Democrat-Herald

But can the mountain lion be saved?

CORVALLIS - A groundswell of support is forming to save the life of the young cougar that has been roaming northwest Corvallis. Thursday, a wildlife sanctuary offered to take the mountain lion, if it can be trapped by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We would be happy to provide it a lifetime home," said Cheryl Tuller, executive director of WildCat Haven of Sherwood in Washington County.

The cougar has been spotted at least seven times in two weeks, and ODFW biologists have said it poses a potential danger to humans because it doesn't appear to be afraid of people. Wild cougars usually avoid all contact with humans.

The mountain lion, which is estimated to weigh 50 pounds, was photographed twice at the edge of back yards. Last Friday, it attacked a house cat about 300 yards from Wilson School. The pet survived, however, and is expected to recover.

ODFW officials have said that if the cougar is trapped, it will be examined by a veterinarian to try to determine its history. But then the mountain lion likely would be killed.

The agency has a policy against relocating problem animals, partly because they'll likely cause problems elsewhere, but also for disease control and to avert conflicts that relocating the cougar could cause with existing wildlife at the new locale.

But WildCat Haven is offering to relocate the animal not to a different patch of woods, but to its own shelter. The non-profit has 45 big cats such as lynx, bobcats and 11 cougars — all born in captivity. (See www.wild

Tuller said there's a convincing argument to be made, based on behavior, that the cougar once was someone's pet.

Brooks Fahy, the executive director of Predator Defense, a Eugene-based wildlife advocacy group, said the animal probably is wild but is exhibiting foolish behavior as part of a growing phase.

"They're like teenagers. They're curious. This is not an extraordinary event," said Fahy, who has worked as a veterinary technician specializing in wildlife rehabilitation.

"Everybody just back off; be cautious," Fahy said. "Nobody has been threatened. The fact you are seeing an animal is no reason to go out and kill it." He said setting up a trap which will likely result in the animal's death was "overkill."

"This is a situation that has been so blown out of proportion that it's mind-boggling," he added.
Brian Wolfer, an ODFW wildlife biologist, said there could be opportunities to place the cougar with an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited organization.

"I don't think, at this point, that we're willing to paint ourselves into a corner and say there are no other alternatives," Wolfer said. He added that if a wild animal is placed in captivity, problems can arise with health because the animal wants to be free.

"It's not an easy, ‘I'm going to put this thing in a cage and it's going to like it there,'" Wolfer said.

WildCat Haven is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association. Wolfer said he didn't know enough about that group, but he said ODFW was very comfortable working with Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities.

Even some residents of neighborhoods the cougar has prowled through want to save the animal.
McKenna Drayse, a Lane Community College student who lived in Corvallis for four years, has created a Facebook page to save the cougar. She said she's hoping it can be placed in a zoo or refuge.

"There should be more people standing up and saying, ‘We shouldn't kill everything we don't want around us,'" she said. "I'm worried about the future. This is going to keep happening, and is this going to be the resort that we come to?"

Kyle Odegard can be contacted at or 758-9523.

Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at

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