ODFW ends cougar capture operations
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife ended cougar capture operations in Zigzag on Sept. 21 because the available evidence leads to the conclusion that the cougar killed Sept. 14 was the one that attacked Diana Bober.
"It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one we killed last week," said Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore coordinated. The experts think it's the cougar that is responsible for the state's first recorded fatal cougar attack.
The animal was spotted on a camera at the site where the attack occurred. Since no other cougar has been seen or detected on that trail in the past week, ODFW thinks they found the attacker.
According to ODFW, cougars are territorial. Males range over 50- to 150 square miles, while female's home range is only 20 to 30 square miles. ODFW set cameras first at the attack site and then expanded them to about a 35 square mile area around that site. Eventually they looked at about a 78-square mile area.
No other cougars were spotted by the 31 cameras on trails, wildlife corridors and other areas where cougars are likely to travel adding to the evidence the cougar killed was the one that attacked. The age also works for the cougar that was killed. That female was several years old, and that's the age where females have established their home territory. The lack of other cougars in the area suggest the dead animal was the only one within range of Bober.
"Our highest priority was to capture the cougar responsible for the attack to protect public safety. We continued to monitor the area for other cougars to increase the likelihood we caught the right one while evidence was being examined," Broman said.
After the cougar was killed, its body was bagged to prevent evidence contamination and flown to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland. It's scientists have been analyzing evidence from the animal's body and from the scene of the attack. The lab was unable to extract any relevant DNA from evidence collected at the attack scene to use for comparison to the DNA from the cougar killed Sept. 14.
Analysis was challenging because the evidence was contaminated at the original attack site. Several days passed between the fatal attack and the discovery of Bober's body. Heavy rain fell during that period, further contaminating the scene.
"The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar," said Ken Goddard, director of the Forensics Lab.
The cougar weighed 64.5 pounds, within the normal weight range for female adult cougars. Her age is still to be determined through a tooth analysis used for all Oregon cougars, but results will take at least a month.
"It's impossible to determine why the cougar attacked Diana. There is no sign that it was sick or unhealthy and a rabies test was negative," Broman said. "Wildlife behavior is unpredictable but cougar attacks are extremely rare throughout the Western U.S."
He added that he hopes the operations bring some closure to her family. "All of us extend our deepest sympathies to the Bober family.
The U.S. Forest Service is working to reopen the area closed during the cougar capture effort. That could happen as early as Sept. 24. The reopening will be announced on the Mt. Hood National Forest website.
Cougar attacks are extremely rare, but there are steps to take to further minimize your risk outdoors. Broman asks that hikers review these tips on the Cougar Sighting sign and Living with Cougar page.