Worried about cougars? They’d rather eat a deer

EVERETT — State officials haven’t received any more reports of cougars near Everett since at least four people spotted them wandering near Silver Lake last week.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t pussyfooting around.

Cougars spend a portion of their lives slipping through the wooded areas around and in Snohomish County cities — we just don’t see them, wildlife biologist Brian Kertson said.

He plans to talk about cougars at 7 tonight at the Northwest Stream Center in Everett.

Kertson, a 31-year-old University of Washington doctoral student, has spent years studying the habits and habitats of cougars in Western Washington. He’s helped capture dozens of cougars in the past decade. His research included tracking and recording the daily behavior of more than two dozen cougars over several years.

If that research has taught him anything, it’s that there’s too much hysteria over the young male cougar caught in Seattle’s Discovery Park on Sunday.

For all the time cougars spend around humans — and vice versa — the rate of conflict is virtually nonexistent, he said.

“People will say, ‘This is very dangerous — I’m really worried about this cougar,’ ” he said. “These same people have a better chance of winning the next Powerball than being attacked by a cat.”

It does happen. Last week a cougar attacked and injured a 5-year-old who was hiking with his family in Stevens County. That’s rare, Kerston said. The last death attributed to a cougar in Washington happened in 1924.

Cougars are exceptionally elusive creatures that typically look to avoid human contact.

In his many encounters with cougars, Kerston said he’s never had one act aggressively, even when he approached the animal’s freshly killed prey. He has had one circle back around, but the cougar was curious, not stalking.

Still, he understands the fear. His heart still speeds up when he’s close to a cougar.

Whose wouldn’t? He said there’s something ingrained in us that instinctively fears the large eyes, the big teeth, those sharp claws. We see them as stealthy and ready to pounce.

“People just have an innate distrust,” he said. “Everything about a cat says predator.”

His research found that cougars often travel through urban and suburban areas by using forested corridors on the periphery of housing developments and along wooded streams and rivers.

They follow the food and their favorites in Western Washington are the black-tailed deer, elk and beavers, which Kerston described as “a great big Milk Dud.”

“Those poor beavers don’t stand a chance.”

They aren’t generally stalking people weeding their petunias.

That said, Kerston recommends knowing what to do if you happen to encounter a cougar. Make yourself big by raising your arms or standing on stump. Keep eye contact. Chuck sticks or rocks if they’re available.

Whatever you do, don’t run.

“I don’t care if you’re Usain Bolt,” he said. “You will not outrun a cougar.”

By the numbers

1: known cougar deaths in Washington

40: mph a cougar can run

200: pounds a male cougar can weigh

1,000 to 4,000: number of cougars in Western Washington

Learn more tonight

The Adopt A Stream Foundation is presenting “Cougars Among Us,” a session with University of Washington wildlife scientist Brian Kertson. The talk and a photo exhibit are at 7 tonight at the Northwest Stream Center, 600 128th St. SE in Everett, at the south end of McCollum Park. Cost is $7, or $5 for Adopt A Stream members. To reserve a seat, call 425-316-8592.

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