A Washington mountain lion was captured, unharmed, and released back to the wild the following day.
On Wednesday, May 23, 2012, a two-year-old female cougar wandered close to homes in Washington State. Following a call from a property owner, she was captured by Washington wildlife agents.
Washington law requires that when there is evidence a mountain lion has preyed on domestic animals (depredation) that it must be destroyed, but fortunately for this lion, no such evidence was found. Laws in other states allow for relocation to occur even when depredation has occurred, if the homeowner is unwilling to file a complaint.
On Thursday, the team drove the cougar to a wooded area far from human occupation. Confronted with unfamiliar territory, the cougar was reluctant to leave the cylindrical cage trap that had been used to transport her.
It took more than 30 minutes to frighten the mountain lion sufficiently to leave the cage. Agents pounded on the sides of the metal cage, nudged her with a pole, attempted to lift the cage and slide her out, and finally used pepper spray to drive her out of the enclosure.
Once released, the fish and wildlife officers shot beanbags at the fleeing lion, and set off the sound of exploding firecrackers. The goal was to make the young mountain lion have a healthy fear of humans.
"They don't teach you about this in warden school." said Sgt. Richard Phillips.
Well... they certainly should!
It's pressure from the public, and from members of organizations like the Mountain Lion Foundation, that encourages state agencies to relocate lions rather than shoot them on sight.
Cages, agents, dogs — captures and releases — are far more costly to the state than a single bullet. And risky too, not only from a safety standpoint, but also for fear of the liability and negative public opinion that may result if the cougar should re-enter a suburb or city.
But it can be even more costly for a wildlife agency to be known to the public as a killing machine rather than as an agency that is concerned about wildlife, ecosystems, and conservation.
So take ten minutes and write a letter to YOUR state wildlife agency, and ask them to fearlessly protect your mountain lions, despite the cost and despite the risk: because the value of our wildlife far exceeds the cost of conservation.
Check back next week for a special feature story from MLF's Washington Field Rep Bob McCoy about how WDFW's innovative and humane wildlife release program began.