Friday, December 21, 2012

Dog killed by cougar near Triumph

Wildlife official says big cats coming closer to cities

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Idaho Fish and Game An Idaho cougar hunts in winter.

A small dog was killed by a cougar while on a hike in the East Fork drainage south of Sun Valley this week, causing one state wildlife official to urge caution.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game Conservation Officer Lee Garwood said Wednesday that a woman was walking her three off-leash dogs in an East Fork side canyon near the Triumph Mine earlier this week when she realized one of them was missing.

Searchers, including the woman’s friends and husband, traced the dog’s tracks to a location where they found dog blood and cougar tracks. The dog’s body was found cached in a snowbank the next day.

“The dog followed its nose up the cat tracks and ran into the cat still standing in them,” Garwood said. “The cat just bit it and killed it.”

A cougar was also reportedly spotted at Bellevue Elementary School at about 6 p.m. on Monday night. Bellevue Marshal Larry Clark said his office received a report of a mountain lion loitering by the school’s playground, but deputies were unable to find the cat.

Garwood said he received another call on Thursday morning regarding cougar tracks in a backyard in Woodside—a call that isn’t unusual, he said, especially as winter closes in and cougars follow deer and elk grazing at lower elevations.

“What people forget or don’t realize is that this all is cat habitat,” he said. “They are moving around the neighborhoods, through the river bottom throughout the year.”

The world “compacts” in winter, he said, with animals and people coming closer together. For example, a Fish and Game helicopter doing game surveys spotted more than 350 deer in Quigley Canyon earlier this week.

Garwood said herds such as that one would draw predators, including cougars, out of the nearby woods and hills and possibly into contact with humans and pets.

“You don’t need to be fearful, just be aware,” he said. “Any place you have animals a lion can eat, a lion will be around.”

Cougars have historically been spotted in the Elkhorn area, and have attacked several dogs over the years—including a 13-year-old Maltese named Piglet in 2008. A cougar attacked two dogs in Gimlet in 2009, and a miniature pinscher was attacked in East Fork in 2008.

Garwood said he recommends either walking dogs on leashes or making sure they are under voice control. 

He said there’s not a cougar behind every tree, but that those who see a deer or elk carcass in their travels should immediately grab their dog, turn back and call him at (208) 539-4403.

Kate Wutz:

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