The cougar that's been prowling Discovery Park in Magnolia for about a week was captured early Sunday after being tracked and tranquilized by wildlife officers.
The young male cougar — whose presence in Seattle’s Discovery Park captured the city’s attention for days — was last seen Sunday trotting a little unsteadily up a gravel service road deep in the foothills of the Cascades, the loud sounds of a barking bear dog in his 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.”
Officer Nicholas Jorg of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, who was hunting in Discovery Park with hound dogs, captured the 2-½- to 3-year-old cat near the park’s Indian Cultural Center around 2 a.m. Sunday.
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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 he 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 Sunday, 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.
“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 information from the last sighting, Jorg and the hound dogs tracked the cougar during Saturday night’s rainstorm. He said he initially worried that overflowing storm drains would wash away the cougar’s trail.
But, he said, “They caught his scent, and once they lined up his trail, he treed.”
The barking dogs cornered the cat up a big-leaf maple, and Jorg shot a tranquilizer dart into one of his rear legs, bringing him down. “He was a sweetheart,” Jorg said. “He did not show any aggression whatsoever. I’m assuming he was pretty scared.”
Still woozy around midmorning Sunday at the park, the cat lay in a cage, unimpressed, as cameras of all sorts — TV, still and cellphone — zoomed in.
Officials said they wanted to wait until the tranquilizer wore off before transporting him into the wild.
An SUV caravan made its way through rainy streets east of Everett toward the mountains. At a pit stop at a gas station in Monroe, a small cluster of people gathered to view the animal in his cage and take pictures. The cat occasionally turned his back on them, at times baring its teeth.
Once in the mountains, officials let loose Cash, a Karelian bear dog, which 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 cage door was opened, the cougar, feebly baring his teeth at the barking dog, just lay there.
Then he bounded up a service road and was gone.
It was not the first time a cougar has been captured in Discovery Park. In 1981, a 110-pound, 2-year-old cougar was tranquilized and taken to a game farm in Tacoma. It was later released outside Enumclaw.
Cougars are the largest members of the cat family in North America. The state cougar population in 2008 was estimated at 2,000 to 2,500 animals.
Cougar hit on 520
About an hour before the Discovery Park cougar was captured Sunday morning, a motorist struck and killed another cougar on Highway 520, between Northeast 51st Street and West Lake Sammamish Parkway Northeast. That cat weighed 136 pounds and was 2 ½ to 3 years old, Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Kim Chandler said.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or firstname.lastname@example.org