Cause of death for cougar found at Bellingham beach to remain a mystery

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 26, 2014 

Dead cougar, Bellingham

This young cougar was found dead on Squalicum Beach in Bellingham on Friday, April 18, 2014. Officials don't know what caused the cougar's death. The photo was provided to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife by Alysha Elsby, clinic director at Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

NORTHWEST WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTER — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - No additional testing will be done to determine what caused the death of a healthy-looking young cougar found recently at Squalicum Beach.

That's because having tests conducted by a number of veterinarians or at a number of labs would cost thousands of dollars the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife doesn't have.

"These things cost money. We don't have those kinds of budgets," said Rich Beausoleil, a bear and cougar specialist with the agency.

The body of the nearly adult male, weighing as much as 110 pounds, was found by a man walking on the beach in Bellingham the morning of Friday, April 18.

There was no obvious sign of trauma, according to Ryan Valentine, a Fish and Wildlife officer who examined the animal.

The animal's teeth looked fine, so did its paws. There was one porcupine quill stuck in its right cheek. The cougar didn't look sick. It didn't look like it had been clipped by a vehicle.

Maybe the cougar got into some poison or maybe he drowned, Valentine said, although he made it clear he was speculating.

A DNA sample was taken and the animal's death was recorded in a database, listing the cause as unknown.

"We don't see many mortalities that we can't tie to a cause of death," Beausoleil said.

The agency would have conducted tests if officers noticed a trend.

Because the cougar was found near water, Beausoleil asked Valentine if the animal looked like it was "skin and bones" - possible indicators of feline leukemia transmitted from house cats to wildlife, a trend that has been seen in King County and would have triggered testing in this case. (The animals tend to come to water to die in such instances.)

But this cougar, which had white teeth indicating it was 3 or 4 years old at most, looked healthy.

"They have a tough life out there. There's a lot of ways wildlife can die," Beausoleil said.

He also indicated the animal's presence on the beach in the city wasn't unexpected, referring in part to the 2009 case of a young male cougar found in Seattle's Discovery Park.

There also was another reason.

"I'm not surprised that a cougar would be walking a coastline because at night that would be the quietest spot around. They're all about secrecy and not being detected," Beausoleil said.

The cougar population in Washington is stable at about 2,000 adults.

An adult male cougar occupies and defends 150 square miles of territory.

Cougars as young as the one found on Squalicum Beach are known as sub-adults. Males tend to wander widely - on average 120 miles from where they were born - as they search for their own territory, so they might get into situations where they hit unexpected dead-ends in new places.

"They just don't know what's around the corner," Beausoleil added.

LEARN MORE

Additional information about cougars is at the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife's website at wdfw.wa.gov/living/cougars.html.

Reach KIE RELYEA at kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2234.

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