The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is ending cougar capture operations in Zigzag because all available evidence shows the cougar killed last Friday, Sept. 14 is the one responsible for the state’s first fatal cougar attack.
“It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one that we killed last week,” said Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore coordinator.
The cougar killed was detected on a trail camera set right at the site where the attack occurred (see images). Over the past week, no other cougar has been detected in the area.
Cougars are territorial. Males have larger home ranges (50-150 square miles) while a female home range is usually 20-30 square miles. Trail cameras were first set at the attack site, then expanded to about a 35-square mile area around that site, and eventually surveilled a roughly 78-square mile area.
No other cougar was ever detected on this network of 31 cameras set on trails, wildlife corridors, saddles and other areas where cougars are likely to travel, adding to the evidence that the cougar responsible was killed on Friday.
The cougar’s age also plays a role in evidence. The female cougar killed is several years old, and by that age cougars have an established a home range. The lack of any other cougars in the area suggests this cougar was in its home range when it attacked and killed Diana Bober, and that it is unlikely another cougar is responsible.
While ODFW believed last Friday that it had likely killed the cougar that attacked Diana, it could not rule out the possibility that another cougar was responsible. “Our highest priority was to capture the cougar responsible for the attack to protect public safety,” said Broman. “We continued to monitor the area for other cougars to increase the likelihood that we caught the right one while evidence was being examined.”
After the cougar was killed on Friday, its body was immediately bagged to prevent any contamination of evidence during transport and flown by Oregon State Police to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore., a lab dedicated to wildlife forensics.
The lab has been analyzing evidence from the cougar’s body and evidence from the scene of the attack. However, the lab is unable to extract any relevant DNA from evidence collected at the attack scene to use for a comparison to the DNA from the cougar killed on Friday.
The analysis has been challenging due to contamination of evidence at the original attack site. Several days passed between when the fatal attack likely occurred and when Diana was discovered and evidence collected. Heavy rain did fall during that time period, further contaminating evidence.
“The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar,” said Ken Goddard, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab.
“We could not get the DNA evidence we had hoped to obtain in this case,” said Broman. “However, all the evidence available shows we have the right cougar.”
The cougar weighed 64.5 pounds, which is within the normal weight range for female adult cougars. Her exact age is still to be determined through a cementum deposit tooth analysis that used for all cougars in Oregon, but results will take at least a month.
“It is impossible to determine why the cougar attacked Diana. There is no sign that it was sick or unhealthy and a rabies test was negative,” continued Broman. “Wildlife behavior is unpredictable but cougar attacks are extremely rare throughout the Western U.S. where cougars are found.”
“We hope the ending of these operations brings some closure for Diana’s family,” continued Broman. “All of us extend our deepest sympathies to the Bober family.”
“We also thank all the partners who stepped in to help including the U.S. Forest Service, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon State Police, USDA Wildlife Services, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory and private landowners in the area.”
U.S. Forest Service is now working to reopen the area closed during the cougar capture effort which is expected to happen as early as Monday, Sept. 24. The reopening will be announced on the Mt Hood National Forest website.
(Photo source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)