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Thursday, September 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Fate of orphaned cougar kittens uncertain after agency decision
By Kelly Kearsley
The kittens, now at a Lynnwood shelter, were found huddled by a fence in Duvall Aug. 21. Two weeks earlier a state wildlife agent shot and killed a female cougar that had been eating chickens at a nearby farm.
"Rehabilitation (and release) is our first preference," said Capt. Bill Hebner, an enforcement officer with the Fish and Wildlife Department.
The kittens are too young to survive on their own and, if released, might associate the human scent with food, he said, making them a danger to people.
If a suitable refuge can't be found, euthanizing the animals is a final option, Hebner said.
"Most (animals at wildlife sanctuaries) come from human hands to human hands or from the wild to the wild," he said.
For now, the baby cougars will stay at PAWS, feeding on milk and quail parts, while officials try to find them a home.
Found in yard
Duvall resident Sheilah MacDonald discovered the kittens behind a fence in her yard Aug. 21.
"The dogs were sniffing at the fence, and I saw some kind of cats out there," MacDonald said.
She scooped up the kittens, then 5 weeks old, brought them inside and placed them in a cardboard box.
"They growled and hissed, and whined and purred," she said. "They all have these big, blue eyes, and they just played with each other."
MacDonald called PAWS, which cares for ill, injured and orphaned wild animals, and brought the kittens to the center the next day.
Hebner said the female cougar was shot Aug. 9 after chickens were killed in a Duvall coop. Two calves had also recently been killed, possibly by the large cat.
Doug Williams, department spokesman, said killing the animal was warranted because it was showing signs of not being afraid of people, as well as endangering livestock. The farm is across the street from a high school.
A necropsy performed on the dead cat revealed chickens in its stomach. It also revealed the female had little milk left, and had possibly been weaning kittens.
It's unclear, however, whether the cougar was the mother of the kittens. Parker said the kittens were too young to be weaned and their condition indicated they hadn't been alone that long.
"They weren't emaciated and dying, which is what I would have expected," he said.
The kittens were dehydrated.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is investigating whether another cougar was killed in the area.
The case reinforces the need for more education of the public about how to interact or not with wildlife, Parker said.
Parker said taking precautions such as covering up chicken coops and keeping calves in barns eliminates the temptation for cougars to visit people's yards and property.
Robert T. Reeder, the regional director for The Humane Society of the United States, said such situations also call for more conversation between the government and public about how and when agencies decide to kill these animals and what other options exist.
"We need to recognize where we are living, that we are around these (cougars), and if that is something that we really want to lose," he said.
Across the state, the agency has received 190 calls from people complaining about cougars this year. Last year, they agency fielded 347 such calls.
The department killed nine cougars in 2003.
Kelly Kearsley: 206-464-2112 or email@example.com
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