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Originally published September 6, 2009 at 8:37 AM | Page modified September 7, 2009 at 12:12 AM

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Elusive cougar captured in Magnolia's Discovery Park, already released into the wild

A cougar that's been prowling Discovery Park in Magnolia for about a week was captured early this morning after being tracked and tranquilized by wildlife officers.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The young male cougar — whose presence in Seattle's Discovery Park captured the city's attention for days — was last seen trotting a little unsteadily up a gravel service road deep in the foothill mountains of the Cascades, the loud sounds of a barking bear dog in its wake.

"This was about as textbook as they come," wildlife biologist Brian Kertson said as the 140-pound cat rounded a bend in the road and disappeared.

"He's now out here where cougars are meant to roam," said Kertson, who runs a cougar rescue project. "... at least out here he has a fighting chance."

State Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Nicholas Jorg, who was hunting Discovery Park with dogs, captured the 2-½- to 3-year-old cat near the park's Indian Cultural Center around 2 a.m. this morning.

Officials say the cat was in great physical condition. A GPS collar will send automatic updates on his location twice a day — allowing officials to detect if it tries to return to an urban area.

They say they believe the cat may have followed the rail lines south along the shoreline, the same route bears have been known to use to get to the park. "He made a left when he should have gone right," Kertson said.

Officials reopened Discovery Park around noon today, three days after closing it following initial cougar sightings.

Jan Pecoraro, who lives near the park and jogs there every day, was among a small group of people who came to see the animal that had created such a fuss in the neighborhood.

"He's absolutely beautiful," Pecoraro said. "I'm sure he's as afraid to be here as we were to have him here the last few days."

Using locator information from the last sighting, Jorg and the hunting dogs tracked the cougar in the midst of Saturday night's rainstorm. He said he initially worried that overflowing storm drains would have washed away any cougar scents the dogs could pick up.

But, he said, "They caught his scent and once they lined up his trail, he treed."

The barking dogs cornered the big cat up a big-leaf maple and Jorg shot a tranquilizer dart into one of the cat's rear legs, bringing it down.

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"He was a sweetheart," Jorg said. "He did not show any aggression whatsoever. I'm assuming he was pretty scared."

Still woozy around midmorning today at the park, the cat lay in a cage, unimpressed, as cameras of all sorts — TV, still and cellphone — darted near and around him, taking pictures.

Officials said they wanted to wait until the tranquilizer had worn off before transporting him into the wild.

An SUV caravan made its way through the rainy streets east of Everett toward the mountains. At a pit stop at a gas station in Monroe, a small cluster gathered to view the animal in its cage and take pictures. The cat occasionally turned its back on them, baring its teeth as the cameras came close.

Once in the mountains, officials let loose "Cash," a Karelian bear dog. The dog barked loudly and aggressively at the cage.

It's the same method they use when they return bears to the wild, creating for the animal a negative association with humans and the urban environment so they won't want to return.

For several seconds after the door of the cage was opened behind it, the cougar, feebly baring its teeth, just laid there as the dog barked. Then it bounded out backward and up a service road and was gone.

It was the second cougar to be captured in the park in recent years. In 1981, a 110-pound, 2-year-old cougar was captured there, tranquilized and taken to a game farm in Tacoma.

It was later released outside Enumclaw.

According to the state wildlife department, cougars are the largest members of the cat family in North America. The state cougar population for the year 2008 was estimated to be 2,000 to 2,500 animals.

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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