Lab unable to confirm via DNA that animal killed Friday is Oregon's killer cougar
ZIGZAG, Ore. — Scientists have been unable to extract any cougar DNA from evidence collected where an Oregon hiker was attacked and killed near Mount Hood.
As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore., is unable to confirm that the cougar killed September 14 is the animal responsible for the death of Diana Bober of Gresham.
“The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar,” said Ken Goddard, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab.
Investigators said several days passed between the time Bober died and when her body was discovered. Heavy rain fell during that time, further complicating efforts to isolate DNA.
But wildlife officials feel confident they killed the animal responsible for Oregon's first known fatal cougar attack on a human in the wild.
“It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one that we killed last week,” said Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore coordinator.
“We could not get the DNA evidence we had hoped to obtain in this case,” said Broman. “However, all the evidence available shows we have the right cougar.”
However, ODFW can not rule out the possibility that another cougar was responsible. “Our highest priority was to capture the cougar responsible for the attack to protect public safety,” said Broman. “We continued to monitor the area for other cougars to increase the likelihood that we caught the right one while evidence was being examined.”
The cougar that was killed was detected on a trail camera set up at the site where the attack took place.
Over the past week, no other cougar has been detected in the area.
According to ODFW:
Cougars are territorial. Males have larger home ranges (50-150 square miles) while a female home range is usually 20-30 square miles. Trail cameras were first set at the attack site, then expanded to about a 35-square mile area around that site, and eventually surveilled a roughly 78-square mile area.
No other cougar was ever detected on this network of 31 cameras set on trails, wildlife corridors, saddles and other areas where cougars are likely to travel, adding to the evidence that the cougar responsible was killed on Friday.
The cougar’s age also plays a role in evidence. The female cougar killed is several years old, and by that age cougars have an established a home range. The lack of any other cougars in the area suggests this cougar was in its home range when it attacked and killed Diana, and that it is unlikely another cougar is responsible.
Why did the attack happen?
Biologists are unable to say why the attack took place.
The cougar weighed 64.5 pounds, well within the normal weight range for female adult cougars.
Testing to determine the cougar's exact age will take about a month.
“It is impossible to determine why the cougar attacked Diana. There is no sign that it was sick or unhealthy and a rabies test was negative,” Bromansaid. “Wildlife behavior is unpredictable but cougar attacks are extremely rare throughout the Western U.S. where cougars are found.”
“We hope the ending of these operations brings some closure for Diana’s family,” continued Broman. “All of us extend our deepest sympathies to the Bober family.”
The U.S. Forest Service will reopen the trails closed during the cougar capture operation. That should happen as soon as Monday.
And ODFW said Oregonians and visitors should review safety information for living in cougar country.
“While cougar attacks are extremely rare, there are steps you can take to further minimize your risk in the outdoors, or if you live in areas where there are cougars,” Broman said. “Please take the time to review those tips by viewing the Cougar sighting sign and Living with Cougars page.”