Northwesterners are hearing a lot about mountain lions lately. Since May, an extremely rare fatal attack in the Washington Cascades, a Willamette Valley pool party interrupted by a wandering cat and a viral Facebook video of a mountain lion lounging in a southern Oregon woman’s living room have made headlines across the region.
Are the Northwest’s mountain lions acting out of character this summer?
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Derek Broman says no. But they are adapting to a gradual shift in their range.
“They’ve exceeded the maximum number of animals that the habitat can support. Younger animals are dispersing to lower quality habitats. They’re exploiting urban areas and doing quite well,” said Broman, the state carnivore biologist. “Carrying capacity has been reached.”
And when mountain lions move into areas where people aren’t as accustomed to seeing them, it can lead to more sighting reports, news stories and interest on social media. “They get more attention because they are unusual,” Broman said.
In May, the Seattle area saw a fatal cougar attack. Two cyclists in North Bend, Washington, were attacked — one fatally — by a mountain lion, in an incident that a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife official called "incredibly abnormal." A necropsy performed by Washington State University released last week indicated that the male cat was lean but not emaciated.
“The cause of aggressive behavior reported in this cat was not evident,” the necropsy found.
Just this week, Springfield residents had their own cougar encounter. Upon spotting a mountain lion in their backyard in the middle of the afternoon, a group of teenagers called the police. With the help of a local game tracker, the animal was located and euthanized. Officials expressed concern about the cat's uncharacteristic daytime activity and the normally skittish animal's apparent disregard for human presence in the area.
And in early July, an Ashland woman posted on Facebook about a strangely amicable mountain lion encounter in her home.
“There’s a mountain lion in our living room,” Lauren Taylor wrote earlier this month. “This is wild.”
Taylor did not respond to interview requests Wednesday. In her July 7 Facebook post, she wrote that she believes the cat entered through an open door into a room that “has huge plants & stairs built around real tree branches … she likely didn’t even realize she was indoors until she was inside.”
After discovering the animal in her home, Taylor wrote, she calmly “meditated on” how to safely coax the animal back outside. Taylor says she “communicated using feline-speak eye blinking to calm her” and “sent telepathic pictures of routes out of the house.”
Ultimately, after poking around her living room and taking a cat nap, Taylor said the lion exited through an open door and disappeared into the night.
Michelle Dennehey, a wildlife communications coordinator at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, noted that despite a viral photo and video album on social media, this incident has not been confirmed by the department.
Dennehey pointed out just how rare cougar attacks are, saying, “We’ve never had a confirmed attack by a wild cougar in Oregon.” That’s a complete lack of any attacks, not just a lack of fatal attacks.
As for the Springfield incident, Dennehey said her agency deals with similar situations regularly.
“When a cougar exhibits certain behavior, like being seen repeatedly in daylight or killing pets,” Dennehey said, “ODFW advises that they’re euthanized.”
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has published a set of guidelines for living and recreating in cougar country. If you see a cougar in the wild, stay calm. They will often retreat if presented with the opportunity. Stand your ground, maintain eye contact, and speak in a loud, firm voice. Consult ODFW for more details.