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Cougar on prowl near downtown

A husky-looking cougar was caught Sunday morning on a 14-second video, slinking in full view through a backyard along Hargadine Street in Ashland.

The animal did no harm to humans or pets, but it did create some viral chat on social media.

In the video, the creature cautiously emerges from bushes and keeps its gaze fixed on the person aiming an iPhone through a window. The couple who shot the video were visiting from California and have returned home, said the owner of the property, who did not want to be named (names have been removed from previous version). The video had gained 149,000 views on Facebook as of Thursday evening.

The owner did say he believes a cougar earlier killed a deer in his front yard — and he’s heard of several deer carcasses found around town in recent weeks.

From his apartment building not far away, Wes Mann said he wasn’t terrified of the cougar, but he and two friends did walk home from a restaurant the previous evening, crowded close together with their iPhone lights flashing and making a lot of noise, which they’ve heard helps to scare them off.

“It’s important to co-exist with them and realize we’re in their territory,” said Mann. “I would hope they wouldn’t have to be destroyed.”

Another resident of the apartment block, who declined to give her name, said, “I don’t feel something should be done about it. I hope they don’t do anything to the cougar. Let it live. We’re in the interface of town and the wild and have to learn to live with it. The video helps create awareness that we’re here in a lovely natural environment and this is part of it.”

Mann said they were reassured on their walk home because they saw a doe grazing in a yard and that inferred it was cougar-free at that moment.

He suggested the possibility of relocating the predator, but Wildlife Biologist Steve Niemela of the Rogue Watershed District of Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife said cougars are not relocated because they are very territorial, requiring 100 square miles to live in — and dropping them somewhere else causes a big upset in their system and may transport disease to new areas.

“Oregon has never had a confirmed attack on a person. Colorado and California have. We have a good safety record,” says Niemela, “but I would hesitate to predict what any wildlife would do.”

ODFW gets many calls about cougars — 80 last year, he notes. Some are about them bothering sheep and goats, but a seeming increase in cougars around humans is likely because everyone has smartphones now, so there are more pics and postings.

“Ashland has a long history of cougars,” he says. “It’s always disconcerting to see such a large predator in close proximity with people. Unfortunately, in a city like Ashland, where you have an abundance of prey species, such as deer, you’re going to have their predators.”

The Ashland watershed and the wilderness beyond are good habitat for cougars, but when male cougars grow up, the territory is already staked out by grown males, he says, so the younger ones are squeezed out. Some end up hunting in town, which cougars consider “subprime.”

While cougars are often through the culprit in deer-kills, people should realize that coyote and dogs do their share of the work.

“A lot of people don’t know what their unleashed dogs are up to at night,” he says.

If you encounter a cougar, Niemela advises you make yourself big, make noise, lift up any small children, keep eye contact and back away slowly. Cougars fear humans and will hide from us, but you still must use caution.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

(March 23: Story updated to remove name of property owner and more specific information about property location.)