Cougars are notoriously elusive creatures who prefer to stay out of the line of sight of humans whenever possible. That doesn’t mean they are always successful in their reclusive pursuits, though.
In a rare instance last week a pride of four cougars showed up along the banks of the Cowlitz River not too far from the Blue Creek boat launch and wound up captured on video for all to see. The video was recorded by Ed Torkelson on the afternoon of Sept. 11 and shared online at cowlitzriverlive.com, a website he curates with his wife, Gladys. The couple touts their website as “The fisherman’s window on the river.”
The video, which lasts just over five minutes, begins with a close up of a beaver swimming erratically in the middle of the river while a group of ducks abandon the bank and begin paddling in the shallows nearby. Just after the 30-second mark the video pans to the shore where a cougar can be seen strutting at the water’s edge. Shortly thereafter two more cougars join in the shoreline prowl while a fourth, presumed to be the mother cat, can be seen lingering in the brushline.
In an interview with Northwest Sportsman Magazine, the Torkelsons noted that they have been operating the camera from their property just downstream from the popular boat launch for 10 years. During that time they’ve documented deer, sea lions, and otters from their property but have never seen a cougar.
According to Brian Kertson, a cougar researcher for WDFW, the collection of cougars is likely a family unit. He says that their existence is not noteworthy in and of itself but acknowledges that the clear footage that has helped to capture the imagination of the public.
“The typical litter size is two or three and from my own research, I’ve documented three kittens on numerous occasions. It’s a little more unusual for all three of them to survive to that age. Usually one, maybe two, will survive,” explained Kertson. “The only thing really unusual about that video is that the guy was there and able to capture it.”
Kertson added that while cougars have a reputation as nocturnal animals the big cats are actually much more day-active than most people realize. Still, he says that this particular quartet of cougars does not necessarily present an elevated risk to bank anglers or other folks who may find themselves in the area.
“Females with offspring are most defensive when the offspring are really little, like four to 12 weeks old when those little kittens are not as mobile and not as able to defend themselves. When they’re that size, though, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference,” noted Kertson.
Kertson added that he has not heard of any other cougar sightings in the area since the video first began to make the rounds. He estimated the age of the kittens to be around 15 months and noted that male cougars typically reach full size around 14 months while females reach full size around 18 months of age.
“They are getting pretty close to being independent,” said Kertson.
Because the cougars were spotted in their natural habitat and there have not been any reports of conflicts, Kertson says it’s highly unlikely that the WDFW will be called upon to take any action.
“That’s not anything that we would respond to as far as removing the cats or anything. They were just checking out the river,” said Kertson.
According to a statement on the cowlitzlive.com website, “This live cam is being offered for the fun of it — to see the beauty of the river, those who are fishing it, and the fish that are running it.”