Studying cougars can be dangerous business

December 12, 2003


CLE ELUM, Wash. – Washington state biologists are studying the affects of the rapidly- growing Cle Elum area on the nearby mountain lion population.

A caravan of trucks rolled into the heart of Kittitas County cougar country.

State biologists, local high school students, and professional trackers used dogs and electronic tracking equipment to track down a young male cougar that roamed the thick woods. They wanted to find out how he is reacting to development in the area and losing his territory.

The cougar didn't react to being tranquilized as was expected.
"He's a territorial male, he's got a home range of well over 100 square miles. He's a big cat, a dominant cat. He's king of the forest right here," explained Gary Koehler, Washington State wildlife biologist.

We didn't know it at the time, but the king was about to lead us on an exhausting journey through his kingdom ending with a dangerous conclusion.

We had covered several snow-covered, slippery, thick-brushed miles before we finally heard the deafening bark dogs make when they've treed a cougar.

Biologist Gary Koehler darted the cougar and waited for the tranquilizer to take affect. But it didn’t quite work as planned and the cougar took off.

It was a mad rush to get the cougar before he hurt himself or the dogs going after him.

Finally, they tracked him down in a nearby stream, giving him more drugs, quickly taking measurements and attaching a new electronic tracking collar.

It seemed like a smooth operation, but something didn’t seem quite right – the cougar was struggling.

Even with all those drugs in him, he's stayed somewhat alert – too alert to handle.

We had to figure out another way to do this. They had to get him out of the creek basin and away from the water.

But suddenly, the 170-pound cougar snapped out of it and got the best of four grown biologists. He pulled them this way and that, dragged one with him into the frigid creek.

The rest of the crew rescued both cougar and co-worker, but the wrestling match continued for an hour.

Finally, they had him calm enough and the crew was able to leave the big cat to get his senses back.

He will need his senses because his kingdom is shrinking.

And while the biologists and community try to watch his every move, the cougar will be watching theirs.

"And I can guarantee anybody who's spent any time in the woods, they've been watched by a cougar before,” said Koehler.

The biologists have teamed up with a local high school to teach the teens the art of cougar studies. Their skills will be needed as the communities continue to expand.


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