By Jayson Jacoby
Suzan and Keith Jones' motion-sensing game cameras have taken some pretty interesting photos this year.
But none comes close to the picture that showed up on the Baker County couple's computer screen Sunday morning.
The photo, which was taken Saturday evening, shows five cougars.
"I was absolutely floored when I pulled that photo up," Suzan Jones said this morning in a phone interview from her home near Bridgeport.
"It's kind of creepy. I go out there (where the photo was taken) a lot by myself. I always carry a firearm."
The picture isn't crystal-clear given the dim light near dusk, but the five individual cougars can be picked out.
Brian Ratliff, district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Baker City office, said it is exceedingly rare to see five cougars together.
The most likely explanation, Ratliff said, is that the group includes a mother and her 2-year-old daughter, plus the mother's and, possibly, the daughter's kittens.
A second possibility is that a single female is traveling with four kittens.
Cougars usually give birth to one, two or three kittens per litter, though, Ratliff said.
At least two of the cougars in Jones' photograph appear to be about the same size, which suggests Ratliff's first scenario rather than the second.
Ratliff said female cougars often travel with their female offspring - whether daughter or even granddaughter - because their home ranges can overlap.
Male cougars, by contrast, are much more aggressive in defending their ranges, and the dominant male in an area usually will kill or drive off other male cougars.
Suzan Jones said she and her husband installed several motion-sensing cameras earlier this year because they lost about 25 head of cattle last year, probably to rustlers.
At any rate, the couple never found any carcasses or other evidence that the missing cattle had been killed by cougars or other predators.
"The cameras are the best way we can figure to patrol when we're not out there," Suzan Jones said.
The couple graze their cattle on about 1,800 acres they own.
Their cameras have photographed a variety of wildlife this summer, including bears and elk, but before Saturday only one cougar.
That cougar was photographed at night about three weeks ago, in a different place than where the five cougars were.