Last weekend, history felt like it was repeating itself when two people reported on Facebook that they had seen a cougar on their Wax Orchard property the previous night.
From there, a flurry of others responded, reflecting the divide the island experienced last year regarding the visiting cougar: some willing the cat away, wary that it might harm people, pets or livestock, others wanting to accept the wild animal in our midst.
Bianca Perla, the executive director of the Vashon Nature Center, commented on one of the Facebook threads, saying that the center’s 30 cameras have not detected mountain lions on the island this summer. And with no physical evidence, as a scientist she considers the sighting a mystery. The center’s Kelly Keenan went out to the property in search of scientific proof of the mountain lion — prints, scat or fur — and found nothing, but a trail camera is now in place to capture the animal’s image, should it return.
So, do we have a cougar again, or don’t we?
Ultimately, we all might want to know, but the answer does not matter: We could have a cougar living among us at any time. And we have other predators we are certain of: coyotes and domestic dogs that sometimes roam free and cause harm.
Last year Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kim Chandler said as much.
“Realistically, coyotes are your worst problem right now,” he said, after one of his colleagues killed the island cougar. “And you know, the next low tide, another cougar could come on board.”
Perhaps one did just that. In fact, the nature center has had four reports of cougars this summer, but has found no physical traces of any. With each report, it is important is that we keep our heads — and protect ourselves, our pets and our livestock, regardless.
The Vashon Nature Center offers tips for what to do if coming face to face with a cougar, and it is good to revisit the advice: Stop, pick up small children and pets. Don’t run. Face the cougar, talk to it firmly. Back away. Always leave a cougar an escape route, and give time to retreat. Make eye contact with the animal. Keenan says we should not expect cougars to leave; it is our job to calmly back away. The cougar, as an apex predator, is unlikely to be afraid and also would be more vulnerable by turning its back and walking away.
The center also offers a guide for protecting livestock from predators that includes what livestock species cougars, bears, coyotes and domestic dogs typically prey on; an overview of a variety of practices to deter predatory attacks and examples of night enclosures. The information is there, readily available online. It is up to all of us to be informed, protect our own animals and assist livestock owners in making necessary changes.
If we have a cougar living with us now is one question. What we are going to do to be prepared for the cougars that are certain to follow is the more important question to face — and answer and with our actions, including supporting our neighbors who may need to make changes to keep their pets or livestock safe among a range of island predators.