No cougar at Discovery Park, but WDFW says big cats are closer than you might think

State wildlife officers tell KIRO 7 they don’t believe a cougar was roaming Discovery Park in Magnolia last month.  Reports of sightings concerned parkgoers and neighbors. 

“Do we really want a cougar in Discovery Park?  Not necessarily.  Are they really hurting anything?  No.  Could he? He could,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Kim Chandler.

There are an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 cougars in Washington state and they are living close to people.

“My own research showed that the average cougar in Western Washington spends about 16-percent of its time in areas with residential development,” said WDFW carnivore research scientist Dr. Brian Kertson.

Dangerous wildlife incident reports over the past year fill the map of Washington. Cougar sightings are common. 

“I think the most deceiving part is that the vast majority of cougar complaints or reports that we get don’t turn out to be cougar. A lot of times they’re bobcats.  Sometimes they’re coyotes.  In the more entertaining reports, they’re things like yellow labs,” said Kertson.

Kertson researches cougars and wolves by darting them and attaching GPS collars. Cougars have expansive home territories in Washington. Females have a home range that’s typically 50 to 65 square miles.  Males have an average range of 150 square miles. 

“That’s one of the things that makes Washington great is that we have these large apex predators that roam the landscape and that’s a good thing.  It creates challenges,” said Kertson.

KIRO 7 has reported on cougar encounters in many Western Washington neighborhoods. 

“There was a cougar, very obviously a cougar, with his loping gait cross the trail and looked like it entered between the homes,” said Bellevue resident Mark Steele in 2018.

A cougar was captured on security cameras outside the Medina home of Bill and Melinda Gates.

“Here’s absolute video of a cougar. In fact, it was right down on his beach. When I went down there, you could see unquestionably cougar tracks in the sand,” said Sgt. Chandler. 

That cougar was later killed while crossing I-405 at Factoria and Eastgate. 

“Human beings are the principal source of mortality for cougars,” said Kertson.

Cougars have also lived in Discovery Park.  One was captured in 1981 and another in 2009. 

“Theory is they likely came down the railroad track from the north,” said Sgt. Chandler.

While cougar attacks on livestock are more common in Washington, attacks on people are rare.  Phil Anderson was attacked by a cougar in Olympic National Park in 1996.

“He had his mouth on my shins,” said Anderson.  Two people have been killed by cougars in Washington over the past 100 years.  In 2018, mountain bikers Isaac Sederbaum and S.J. Brooks were attacked by a cougar near North Bend.  Brooks was killed.

While cougars survive primarily on deer, videos of people encountering the big cats perpetuate fear.

“It reinforces the mythology and the misinformation that they’re simply blood-thirsty killers looking to attack whatever they can get their paws into,” said Kertson.

Wildlife officials say, despite the number of people and the healthy population of cougars, encounters are rare.

“Cougars and people actually do a pretty good job of co-existing,” said Kertson.

Safety tips for cougar encounters: