Wildlife authorities confirmed reports of a cougar roaming a southwest Bend neighborhood earlier this week, prompting warnings in the community.

Animal tracks that appeared to belong to a big cat were found in the backyard of a home in the neighborhood of River Canyon Estates, as well as along the nearby rim of the Deschutes River. The cougar is thought to have been in the area between Monday and Tuesday. A representative from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife later confirmed Wednesday that the tracks belong to a cougar.

Corey Heath, wildlife biologist for the state agency, said the cougar likely came up out of the nearby river canyon late Monday night. Heath said the cougar walked through several backyards in River Canyon Estates and killed a raccoon, before it likely returned to the canyon.

The agency posted warning signs in the area within the River Canyon Estates neighborhood, located near the eastern edge of the Deschutes River by Brookswood Boulevard, as well as on a nearby river trail. Heath said ODFW also reached out to administrators at nearby Pine Ridge and Elk Meadow elementary schools, and notified a local neighborhood association about the sighting.

Central Oregon has experienced a rash of cougar sightings in the past year. Last August, a farmer shot and killed a cougar after it killed two Shetland sheep and a turkey on his property east of Bend, according to The Bulletin’s archives. Earlier that month, authorities caught and euthanized a cougar spotted near Lake Billy Chinook. ODFW estimates that around 6,400 cougars live in Oregon.

Heath said cougars have been known to live along the Deschutes River south of Bend, which has water and a population of mule deer that winter in the area.

“It’s a long, connected stretch of habitat,” Heath said.

Heath advised residents to not to turn and run if they see a cougar. Instead, residents should stand their ground, occupy as much space as possible and protect children and pets, Heath said.

“People don’t need to panic,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com