The Odessa Record -

By Chris Person
of the Times 

North Lincoln County cougar study

New methods developed in an attempt to make cougars flee people

 

Last updated 3/5/2020 at 12:36pm

Officer Curt Wood/Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

A 112 pound female cougar lies tranquilized while being fitted with a tracking collar near Fort Spokane.

FORT SPOKANE – A cougar was captured, fitted with a tracking collar, and released near Fort Spokane on Thursday, February 13.

Kalispel Tribe of Indians Wildlife Biologist Bart Geroge aided by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Curt Wood and others treed and tranquilized the 112 pound female cougar.

According to Officer Wood, the cougar was "not a threat to human safety and had not been a part of any livestock attacks." Wood said he has received complaints about the presence of cougars in the Deer Meadows and Seven Bays areas. The animals are sometimes seen at night and have been reported walking through people's yards.

The animal was tranquilized as part of a unique program testing the effectiveness of a hazing cougars with dogs. The program aims to develop a technique to make cougars flee from people.

Wood said dogs found the cougar right away in the Deer Meadows area. It had been captured on camera the night before. Chased by the specially trained dogs, the cougar went on a rugged hill to the west of Fort Spokane.

After the dogs treed the cougar, George tranquilized it and then extracted it from the tree. Workers used harnesses and safety gear to climb up to the cougar, before lowering it to the ground with a cable.

DNA samples were taken, a tracking collar was fitted and a tag put in the cougar's ear. The animal was then released in the area where it was captured.

George has been working for the Kalispel Tribe of Indians for ten years and has permits to put tracking collars on up to 35 cougars this year in Lincoln, Stevens, Spokane and Pend Oreille counties.

George is using prototype technology, a collar he describes as like a regular survey collar but with Garmin electronics that link with a handheld unit. Using this technology, he is able to accurately track a collared cougar's location and movement.

To get baseline data, George measures how soon and far an unhazed, tracking collared cougar moves from a recording of human voices before resting.

During averse hazing, recordings of human voices are played and dogs chase the cougar up a tree where the cougar is shot with paintballs. The cougar learns to expect a negative interaction and flee from the sound of human voices.

George can later retest a hazed cougar to see if it flees sooner or farther than before hazing. He wants to prove the effectiveness of using dogs for aversive hazing of cougars.

Officer Curt Wood/Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

George said the cougar collared near Fort Spokane was five to six years old. He did not think it had a den in the area, but probably had day beds it used. Since tracking began, it has swam across part of Lake Roosevelt five times.

When asked how many cougars are in the area of northern Lincoln County near Deer Meadows and Fort Spokane, George said that while he can't give numbers, the area is saturated with "plenty of cats" occupying suitable habitat.

George says that his team will be working in the area through the spring and asks that people don't try to help by catching or tying up the loose working dogs. The specially trained dogs are fitted with tracking collars and need to be free to do their work of chasing cougars.

 

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