Cougar hunting in Oregon needs to be rethought

Mary Fay /

Published Apr 2, 2013 at 05:00AM

In the March 26, 2013, edition of The Bulletin, it was reported that a pair of cougar kittens, thought to be siblings, were seen prowling a Prineville neighborhood. They were both underweight and starving. Unfortunately, due to the risk and danger they presented to the public, these cougar kits were shot and killed by the authorities.

The Oregon Dept. of Fish&Wildlife (ODFW) services commented, “We get concerned when we see cougars repeatedly in daylight in places where there are lots of people. That’s not typical cougar behavior.”

According to a report by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, cougar kittens are not mature enough and ready to be independent until they are between 11 and 18 months old. Some biologists suggest that maturity and independence occurs at around 14 months. These two cougars were obviously orphaned before they were mature enough to be successful on their own.

How were they orphaned? We do not know, but hunting is the most likely culprit. Those who study wildlife behavior postulate that hunting cougars actually increases conflicts with humans. How can that be?

First, it is very difficult to distinguish between male and female cougars at a distance. Since cougar kittens stay with their mother until they are emancipated at an average age of 14 months, and the adult female usually gets pregnant during that same period of time with her next litter, it is near impossible to kill an adult female cougar without prematurely orphaning kits. In fact, Montana authorities note that 75 percent of adult females might have young at a given time. If the mother cougar is killed, the kittens are left to their own survival devices, without the necessary skills imparted by the adult female. Since these orphaned kits are not mature enough to hunt on their own and have not learned all they need to know about being “stealth,” it’s just a matter of time before they end up in someone’s backyard, looking for easy food.

Killing the adult male brings its own set of problems that may eventually lead to conflicts with humans. Adult males establish territory and learn to live there, keeping younger males out of their territory and living unnoticed and with minimal human contact.

When the adult male dies, his territory opens, usually to a younger, less-experienced male more likely to engage in risky behavior.

Wildlife biologists who have long studied cougars and their social structure note that indiscriminate hunting and trapping of cougars may increase cougar/human conflicts. It is not a stretch to conclude that ODFW’s hunting and trapping polices actually increase the public safety risk.

These same biologists note that when cougars allow themselves to be seen by humans, something is wrong with the cougar, which may be the reason these two cougar kittens were killed. As young orphans, they were unable to feed themselves and not smart enough to avoid contact with humans.

When you see or hear of cougars in developed neighborhoods, you can bet that the cougars are sub-adults prematurely orphaned and which lack the maturity to be fully independent from their mother.

It’s time for ODFW to rethink its wildlife management policies that allow hunting and trapping cougars.