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Recent cougar sightings lead to closures, warnings from Washington wildlife officials

A cougar was captured touring Ephrata, and another led to a trail closure near Baker Lake. While cougar attacks are rare, they can be deadly.

SEATTLE — Several Washington cougar sightings have led to closures and a capture in recent days.

A cougar was spotted running through the streets of Ephrata in Central Washington. The 130-150 pound male eventually ended up in someone's home, where it was tranquilized by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and relocated to a remote part of Douglas County.

"It ended up being a good situation, that we were able to capture that animal and relocate it and no one was hurt," said Sam Montgomery of WDFW. "And the animal wasn't hurt. So it ended up being actually quite a successful operation for an unusual day."

It's not the only animal causing trouble for humans. Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has closed the popular Baker Lake Trail and campgrounds on the east side of the lake, citing a cougar that wasn't easily frightened by humans.

"USDA Forest Service staff are coordinating with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists in assessing the situation," Rangers wrote.

Cougars are rarely spotted, but fairly common in Washington. Officials believe about 2,000 of the animals call the state home.

Attacks are rare, but can be dangerous. Back in 2018, a cougar attacked a pair of cyclists outside Snoqualmie, killing one and injuring another. It was believed to be only the second such attack in a century at the time, though since then, a child escaped an attempted attack in a Leavenworth park in 2019.

Still, recent incidents are a good reminder to be prepared when living and hiking in cougar country. If you encounter one on a trail experts say do not run, because it can elicit a prey response.

The Forest Service warns if you are attacked, fight back, and try to stay on your feet. The agency shared the following tips:

  • Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase.
  • Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.
  • Try to appear larger than the cougar. Get above it (e.g., step up onto a rock or stump). If wearing a jacket, hold it open to further increase your apparent size. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder to appear intimidating.
  • Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
  • Never approach the cougar, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, and never offer it food.
  • If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.

WDFW offers more guidance on living near cougars here.

RELATED: Cougar who broke into Ephrata home released in remote part of Douglas County

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