METALINE FALLS--The head of a cougar that attacked a young Chewelah girl in north Pend Oreille County yesterday will be tested for rabies and other diseases at Washington State University.
Meanwhile, the girl is being treated for a bite on the head and lacerations on the arm at Spokane's Sacred Heart Medical Center. The hospital today listed her in serious condition with a puncture in the skull.
Bruce Bjork, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's assistant chief, today said the cougar appeared to be young and probably was an inexperienced hunter. Two WDFW officers accompanied by hound hunters and their dogs searched the Sullivan Lake campground late yesterday and were unable to find any evidence of additional cougars in the area.
Bjork gave this account of the incident:
The young girl was leaving a restroom to return to her campsite at approximately 4 p.m. when the animal attacked. Her mother, holding a baby, scared the animal away. The cougar then ran approximately 50 feet to a brushy area and waited. It is not unusual for cougars to remain near their prey following attacks, according to Steve Pozzanghera, a WDFW cougar expert.
The Metaline Falls marshal and U.S. Forest Service personnel responded and killed the cat.
WDFW Enforcement Sgt. Ray Kahler and Officer Ted Holden then evacuated the camp area and brought in hound hunters and dogs.
The officers then went to the area Forest Service headquarters building to brief the campers and provide copies of brochures that provide information about cougars, their habitat and how to be safe in areas that have the large cats.
Pozzanghera said the cat that attacked the young girl probably recently had been driven away from its mother so she could raise this year's litter. He said the cat probably was from 12 to 16 months old. Cougars of that age normally weigh from 50 to 85 pounds.
The biologist said cougars that attack humans normally choose small victims. He added cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare and normally are done by inexperienced, subadult animals. Pozzanghera said nationally there have been approximately 20 human fatalities and 75 non-fatal cougar attacks in the past century.
Washington has a population of approximately 2,500 cougars. The population has been growing since the 1980's, Pozzanghera said.
He attributed the rising cougar population to:
- Past conservative WDFW cougar hunting programs
- Passage of a 1996 initiative banning hound-hunting for cougars
- The adaptability of cougars to find new food sources, such as raccoons possums, coyotes and domestic animals such as dogs and cats
"It's no longer deer or die for cougars," Pozzanghera said.
He said cougars are confronting people more often as the state's cougar and human populations expand and more people live and recreate in rural and wild areas.
Hikers and others using wilderness areas are urged to remain in groups and keep small children close.
They should keep camps clean and minimize food odors that might attract racoons or other cougar prey. Dogs should be left at home.
A person encountering a cougar should pick up young children and stand tall. He or she should stare at the animal and talk firmly to it while slowly backing away. Turning and running can trigger a cougar's instinct to chase and attack.
A person attacked by a cougar should fight back and try to remain on his or her feet.
A pamphlet entitled "Living with Wildlife in Washington: Cougars," is available at WDFW offices.
Also see "Do's and Don'ts in Cougar Country" for more information.