Seattle's Discovery Park was closed this afternoon following the third report of a cougar in the Magnolia area in the past week.

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Seattle’s Discovery Park was closed this afternoon following the third sighting of a cougar in or near the park in the Magnolia neighborhood in the past week.

A man at the park told authorities he saw a cougar in the parade field of the old military installation in the park about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

A large sign at the east entrance to the park has been put up that says: “Discovery Park closed due to cougar sighting.”

Officials also shut down the park in 1981 when a cougar was in the park then.

With three reported sightings now, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife has decided to set a trap in the park in an attempt to capture the animal.

If trapped, the cougar will be relocated, said Darren Friedel, with the department.

Residents also have reported seeing a cougar in the neighborhood around Woodland Park Zoo.

In 1981, a 110-pound, 2-year-old cougar was captured in Discovery Park. It was tranquilized and taken to a game farm in Tacoma. It was later released outside Enumclaw.

Some officials believe the cat had been transported to the park or it would have been seen somewhere else in the city. Others thought it could have come down from the north via rail lines. Bears have been known to use that route to Discovery Park.

In 1970, a 117-pound cougar was tranquilized after it was found in the backyard of a Ballard home. It was taken to the Woodland Park Zoo, where it died.

Wildlife agents will also bring two Karelian bear dogs to Discovery Park to help find the cat.

Karelian dogs have been used for centuries in Finland to hunt a variety of big game, including bear and elk. They have an instinctive tendency to face down a big animal without fear.

Mishka, one of the three Karelian dogs owned by the state department of Fish and Wildlife, was originally used to track cougars by wildlife biologist Rocky Spencer, a well-known mountain-lion researcher who studied the animals living on the urban-rural fringe of the Cascades.

According to the state wildlife department, the state cougar population for the year 2008 was estimated to be 2,000 to 2,500 animals.

The department said wildlife offices throughout the state receive hundreds of calls a year regarding sightings, attacks on livestock and pets, and cougar-human confrontations.

“Our increasing human populations and decreasing cougar habitat may create more opportunities for such encounters,” it said.

Seattle Times staff reporter Katherine Long contributed to this report.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com