Cougar shot dead downtown

July 12, 2001 11:00 pm
A state wildlife biologist shot and killed an 80-pound male cougar early Friday morning after police cornered it under a bushy blue spruce tree next to the Bridge Street Inn motel. (Photograph by Kathy Orr/Copyright 2001, The Baker City Herald.).
A state wildlife biologist shot and killed an 80-pound male cougar early Friday morning after police cornered it under a bushy blue spruce tree next to the Bridge Street Inn motel. (Photograph by Kathy Orr/Copyright 2001, The Baker City Herald.).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

A state wildlife biologist shot and killed an 80-pound male cougar early Friday morning after police cornered it under a bushy blue spruce tree next to the Bridge Street Inn motel.

Todd Callaway, who works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in Baker City, said he shot the cougar once in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with .00 buckshot.

He fired the shot through an open window in Room 114 at the motel; that was one of six rooms evacuated earlier to protect motel guests.

Callaway said the cougar was about six feet away.

George Keister, head biologist at ODFW?s Baker City office, then fired one shot with a .22 caliber rifle to make sure the cougar didn?t suffer.

Callaway said shooting the cougar from the motel room was his safest option, because he was able to fire at a down angle.

Callaway said he used the shotgun because it is effective at such a short range, and because the buckshot isn?t capable of traveling nearly as far as a rifle or pistol bullet.

The police outside the motel who were shining lights at the cougar were 60 to 70 feet away from the animal, he said. The distance and angle made a shot from there much more difficult, and the tree?s branches also were in the way, Callaway said.

Although ODFW also has guns that fire tranquilizer darts, Keister, said ODFW?s policy prohibits employees from tranquilizing cougars and releasing them elsewhere.

Tranquilizing cougars is a difficult and dangerous task, Keister said.

The dart must embed in a major muscle to be effective, he said; and even then the drug doesn?t immediately sedate the animal.

It?s impossible to predict the behavior of an animal that?s been hit with a tranquilizer dart, Keister said.

?We really didn?t want it running around town with a dart in it,? Callaway said.

Keister said a state biologist darted a cougar about four years ago in Ontario, and before the animal was subdued it slightly injured one of the police officers pursuing it.

Keister said killing the cougar with the shot from the motel room was the both the safest and best choice in the situation.

He said he discussed options with Callaway and with police.

?We?re going to error every time on the side of human safety,? he said. ?That thing was showing behavior we don?t like, by being in town.

?Everyone agreed we needed to kill the animal.?

Pam Maxwell, manager of the Bridge Street Inn, said she was asleep in her living quarters at the 40-room motel when police woke her a little after midnight.

According to Oregon State Police, Shea Maliwauki, 20, and Cole Goodwin, 20, both of Baker City, were walking near the Chevron service station less than a block northwest of the motel when they spotted the cougar and watched it run across Old Post Office Square toward the motel.

That was just before midnight.

The pair called police, who then called Callaway and Keister.

Maxwell said police evacuated guests from six rooms that were near the tree where police and the biologists had the cougar at bay.

Guests from four other rooms on the opposite side of the motel were not evacuated, Maxwell said.

She said the guests who had to leave their rooms recognized there was an emergency because of the proliferation of police cars with their bright lights.

But she said none of the sleepy guests expected to learn ?there was a wild animal in our back yard.?

Maxwell said a couple from Belgium seemed especially shocked at the news.

?They couldn?t believe it,? she said.

Maxwell said the guests were allowed to return to their rooms after about 20 minutes.

Maxwell, who watched the cat from Room 114, said the cougar appeared to her to be ?absolutely scared to death.?

?It was a sad situation,? she said. ?He was a beautiful cat.?

Keister said it?s likely the cougar stayed under the tree because it felt secure there.

The spruce tree has branches that extend to the ground, and there were two fences in the area as well that ?kind of boxed it in,? he said.

Keister said it?s impossible to say with certainty why the cougar ventured into downtown Baker City.

Based on the animal?s weight and size, he estimated its age at 1 to 1 years.

That?s about the age at which most cougars part ways with their mother, Keister said.

At that time the young cats start searching for their own territory, he said.

It?s possible that older cougars drove the younger animal out of its preferred habitat in unpopulated country, Keister said.

Mature male cougars sometimes kill younger cats that stray into their established territory, he said.

Keister said this is the first case he?s confirmed of a cougar roaming near the center of Baker City.

There have been several possible sightings of cougars on the fringes of the city over the past few years, he said.

The most recent was from Francis DeRoest, who lives along the Powder River at the south end of town just east of the Sumpter highway.

On an evening about a month ago, DeRoest said, he was watching television when he saw a large cougar walk past his patio.

He said he went outside and watched the animal run west toward Griffin Gulch.

?It was a big one; it was quite exciting,? DeRoest said in a telephone interview Friday. ?I?ve been watching for it every night since, But I haven?t seen it again.?

Maxwell complimented the police and biologists for dealing with a potentially dangerous situation safely.

?The scary part was all of the cop cars but they performed really well; they just did an excellent job,? she said.