News Letter: Fall 2003
A Predator Kill

Bad news all around.
Sunday afternoon, August 31, sometime while we were out on the west end working on the fence line, and the dogs were out in the east and north fields, a cougar killed and took one of the Bond ewe lambs. This is the first loss in over 11 years ... a six month old ewe lamb weighing less than 100 pounds. There have been cougars here all of this time, but the LGDs (our Pyrs) have done well to keep them moving around the farm, until this incident.

In the next 24 hour period of time Keith and I and two of the neighbors spent 14 hours covering the farm and some surrounding area over and over. We never found anything; not her coat nor any wool or carcass bits.

Its common for a cougar to drag or carry the carcass off some distance from the kill. It would be no big thing for a cougar to kill the lamb and carry it some miles away from here. I didn't expect to ever find any remains. Cougars kill in one bite by crushing the throat and wind pipe and suffocating the animal. The animal never has a chance to cry out and there isn't any blood. Coyotes, on the other hand, kill more like dogs making a bloody, messy kill and spreading the carcass out all over everywhere. They make a lot of noise when they kill something; they're very proud of what they do.

I was thinking the carcass must be somewhere up on the Pinwheel ranch, back in the woods. We could look forever and not find it and that is less than 1 mile away. A cougar has a hunting range of 70 miles.

I don't love cougars, and certainly not enough to feed them. I hoped he choked to death on the wool.

Since that time we haven't been able to let the sheep out into the fields. The cougar continued to be right here. We kept finding fresh droppings and scent marking and tracks for some weeks.

We had a rain about 2 weeks ago before that, and the pastures were actually growing a bit and the sheep were frantic to get out there.

One neighbor suggested I stake out one of the sheep and wait with a gun for the cougar to come and them maybe I could kill it. Think what that would be like for the sheep? think what that would be like for me?

I have been trying desperately to get another dog. I had started writing back in February trying to find one. My sense of the growing predator pressures was already reaching a high point.

As it turns out, incident reports filed with the State Division of Wildlife HAVE to filed within 10 days and you *MUST* have a kill site or carcass.

It took ten days to make contact with the proper DOW Officer. Finally, Wednesday afternoon (September 10) I made the proper connection and an Officer came out later that afternoon and brought along a Search and Rescue dog and tracker (both women, by the way and also the dog)

We went out, having let the dog snuff a dirty lamb coat and then the dog was set loose. (I had to chain up Marley and Badger in the barn or they would have gone berserk) The dog went west immediately. They work back and forth, sweeping an area very thoroughly, sometimes circling in wider circles. She took us down to the river bottom fairly quickly and seemed to think that there had to be something in the willow, wild plum and tall grasses near the stream (which was still flowing high after that rain about 16 days ago).

The thing about search dogs is that some are trained only to find a live person, others are trained to find dead things. They are trained to respond to a single word command (a word of the tracker's choosing) The tracker had given the command for "find the dead thing" ... this would mean that we might find any sort of dead thing ... a deer kill, the ewe kill site, most anything that might be out there dead.

We eventually gave up searching the confluence river marshes and went west up towards the west ridge. The winds were shifting quite a bit, swirling; this made it difficult for the dog to determine exactly were the source of the dead thing smell was located. Midway up the west end we stopped for a bit as the dog had become very agitated (whining and pawing and pressing on the tracker). The tracker said she hadn't behaved this way before. I said: the dog wants us to leave now. As it was nearly twilight (a very bad time to be near a cougar) we gave it up.

The two came back again the next morning (no wind and very calm) but didn't bring the dog. I took the "brush-whacker" and we went back down to the marshes to see if we could find anything. I was hacking and hewing paths while they continued searching. We went on like that until afternoon. We took a break and then went back out for one last search. The tracker had seen what she thought was a cougar den on the far south side of the river up in the rocks.

We went far west and south to the falls hoping to find a way across the river. We did find a series of rocks and they went across ... I kept standing there thinking ... I won't go across/ I should stay here/ I can't go over there. I thought I would search along the river side where I was. I went not ten feet and there was the kill site. Her coat, her wool, very few bone fragments, one hoof toe, a bit of jaw bone, and the skull plate with holes where the cougar had bitten through the head and crushed the skull; also the rumen contents. The cougar had consumed absolutely everything else. It doesn't get any more real than this. We go about our lives thinking we are in control, we have some sort of power over our lives, and then the real world out there comes and smacks you in the face.

hillside where the cougar killed

This is where the cougar killed the ewe lamb.

site where remains were found

Site where remains were found.

clumps of wool stripped off by the cougar

Clumps of wool stripped off by the cougar

It's hard to imagine the crushing power and strength of a lion like that. The DOW Officer said: "that's it, you can't let the sheep out again and you must carry a weapon anytime when out on the land." When the cougar made this kill we were not two hundred yards away working on the fence. Then the next two days that we were searching we were very near that site any number of times and no doubt the cougar was right there. We also belive the cougar was there the afternoon the search dog was so upset; we were very close to the kill site then as well.

Bit of skull plate and teeth

Bit of skull plate and teeth.

Bond ewe and ewe lamb

Bond ewe and ewe lamb.

I am hoping that we can get a cougar hunter in here. The cougar hunting season started mid-November. We have heard lately that the cougar has been killing household dogs and cats, and has attacked a horse in a housing area about three miles west over the ridge. The hunters have taken two lions since mid-November in our area, but not the one that killed our ewe. Tracks have been seen since then within a mile of our farm, as the cougar was following a deer and her fawn. The hunting season goes on until mid-March.

I continue to try to get a Maremma LGD (they are supposed to stay with the sheep better than the Pyrs do) but haven't been able to do that yet. This is all costing a fortune in time, money, labor, and terrible feelings ... its a bad feeling to be hunted by a superior killer.

As yet, there is no resolution on the cougar. One can only hope that the hunter will be successful sometime soon.

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