OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is working with wildlife experts to determine how to best care for three cougar kittens recently discovered in the Duvall area of eastern King County.
The kittens were found Aug. 21 by a Duvall homeowner and taken to the Progressive Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) Lynnwood facility the next day. PAWS has agreed to temporarily care for the young kittens.
WDFW biologists say they will explore several options on what to do with the young cougars. One option might be to place the kittens with a wildlife rehabilitator where the animals would be raised for a certain amount of time before release back to the wild.
Biologists say it's extremely difficult to rehabilitate cougars, especially those taken at a young age and put in contact with humans, making it more difficult for them to survive in the wild. Even though some rehabilitation efforts with black bears have proved successful, the success rate in rehabilitating cougars is more challenging.
"We are concerned about the kittens imprinting on people and not cougars," said Donny Martorello, a WDFW cougar expert. "Public safety concerns would undoubtedly prevent the department from releasing the rehabilitated cats back into Washington state."
Martorello said another option that WDFW is exploring is the possibility of permanently placing the kittens in a wildlife preserve where they would be cared for. A number of preserves exist, both in Washington and in neighboring states, but it is unknown if any facilities are able to take the cats at this time.
Biologists say if neither of these options prove feasible, the animals could be euthanized, although every attempt will be made to avoid that option.
There is speculation that the kittens may have belonged to an adult female cougar that was shot and killed by a WDFW enforcement officer 12 days earlier on Aug. 9 after it had killed livestock. The cougar was shot in the same area where the kittens were later discovered, which is across the street from a public high school.
Cougars that pose an imminent threat to public safety or kill livestock can be lethally removed under WDFW guidelines.