By JANICE PODSADA
MUKILTEO — State Fish and Wildlife agents snooping around Mukilteo say a reported cougar probably isn’t an overgrown tabby or Ol’ Yeller.
Since summer, police and state wildlife agents have received reports that a cougar has taken up residence inside Mukilteo city limits, said Capt. Bill Hebner, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Mill Creek.
Agents sprang into action after the most recent sighting was reported this month by a staff member at Columbia Elementary School, 10520 Harbour Pointe Blvd. A witness called police to report a cougar prowling near the playground.
The school is located about a quarter-mile southeast of North Gulch Open Space, Mukilteo’s largest greenbelt.
Because the cougar was sighted near a school, the agency’s team of hunters and hunting dogs were immediately dispatched to the area.
In addition to the hounds, wildlife agents also packed their tranquilizer darts, in hopes of capturing the cougar alive.
Although no tracks or trace of a cougar were found — a rainstorm may have obliterated the evidence — Hebner said he doesn’t believe what folks have reported seeing is a big yellow Labrador dog or a large house cat.
"A lot of sightings involve misidentification," Hebner said. "Though we really can’t confirm whether these have been legitimate sightings or not, the number of sightings in the area — a cougar ran across the road, a cougar seen near the school — this one could be the real thing."
From what is known, the cougar in question hasn’t exhibited aggressive behavior toward animals or humans. But if residents notice their pets are going missing, Hebner said, they should call Fish and Wildlife agents.
The last time Mukilteo residents encountered a cougar was in 1992.
"He was one of the first ones to show up in the county’s metropolitan area," Hebner said. "He was the beginning of many that ended up in an urban area."
That particular cougar, which killed pets and livestock, was shot and killed by agents. During its brief urban tenure, however, it was hotly pursued.
"His carcass had buckshot in it. A .45 slug in it. It had been shot at by residents."
Hebner advised anyone against taking shots at the North Gulch cougar.
"You don’t want to be shooting at things in a neighborhood," he said.
Young male cougars can end up living in an urban greenbelt after being pushed out of their normal habitat by large, fully grown males. The state’s growing cougar population has pushed younger cougars into marginal feeding areas such as urban greenbelts. The young animals, which normally hunt deer and elk, come to rely on a diet of rabbits, raccoons and house cats.
Hebner said if Mukilteo’s cougar is found and captured, it might be eligible for relocation.
"We’re willing to give this one a chance if it doesn’t become aggressive," he said. "Chances are this cat turned left, when it should have turned right, and ended up in a greenbelt."
If you spot a cougar, call the Mill Creek office of Fish and Wildlife, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 425-775-1311.
After business hours, call 911 or the Washington State Patrol, 360-658-2588.
"Let us take care of things," Hebner said. "Don’t take things into your own hands."
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