Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputies find, shoot, and kill cougar citing ‘safety concerns’

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Officials with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) have confirmed a cougar was shot and killed by deputies Wednesday morning in an orchard near Finley.

The Kennewick Police Department (KPD) said confirmed sightings of the animal began Tuesday around the 200 block of E 41st Place and then by the area of West 4th Ave. and South Huntington St.

ORIGINAL STORY: Kennewick Police report a Cougar sighting in the Tri-Cities

On Wednesday morning, BCSO officers were dispatched to E Game Farm Rd. just before 8:30 a.m. after workers in an orchard came across the large cat.

“The cougar did not startle and just remained on the ground in the orchard. Deputies arrived and confirmed the animal was an adult cougar that appeared to have a major injury to one of its eyes,” a Facebook post read. “The cougar did not appear to be frightened by the presence of deputies at all and just watched them for a while.”

Lieutenant Jason Erickson with the BCSO said that as the deputies were beginning to set up containment, they saw a movement in the corner of their eye.

“One of them saw a motion and turned and the cougar was tracking them,” Lt. Erickson said.

That’s when the deputies decided to use lethal force.

“At that point, because of the workers being in the orchard, the residential area that was near the orchard, and because the cougar was now tracking our deputies, they did shoot and kill the cougar to prevent it from entering any of the public,” Lt. Erickson said. “When humans come across them, typically they get startled really easy and they run away and we typically don’t see them. But it had come pretty far into a residential area where there were workers and because it was not startling. We were concerned that somebody was going to get injured.”

Last May, a cougar entered a home in Ephrata and was able to be tranquilized by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

But in this situation, Lt. Erickson said non-lethal options weren’t possible.

“Our deputies don’t carry that type of equipment. Unfortunately, because of the close proximity and the behavior of the cougar, it was not reasonable to expect them to try and Taser or do anything like that,” Lt. Erickson said.

According to the Western Wildlife Foundation (WWF), attacks on humans are “very rare.”

“In the states of WA, OR and ID, there have only been 3 human deaths due to cougars in recorded history,” the WWF said.

Officials said the animal’s body was turned over to the WDFW’s biologists who are collecting samples and data.

If you do encounter a cougar, is it very important to not make any sudden movements; below is a list from the WDFW’s website on encounter tips

WA DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE: COUGAR ENCOUNTERS

  • Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase.
  • Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.
  • Try to appear larger than the cougar. Get above it (e.g., step up onto a rock or stump). If wearing a jacket, hold it open to further increase your apparent size. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder to appear intimidating.
  • Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
  • Never approach, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, and never offer it food.
  • If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey but a potential danger.
  • If the cougar attacks, fight back. Be aggressive and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back using anything within reach, including sticks, rocks, shovels, backpacks, and clothing—even bare hands. If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee, realizing it has made a mistake. Pepper spray in the cougar’s face is also effective in the extreme unlikelihood of a close encounter with a cougar.

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