Cougar suspected in eight Happy Valley lamb deaths

SEQUIM — Fred and Joanne Hatfield suffered a shock Monday morning: seven dead lambs, plus one so badly mauled it had to be killed, in their field at Kol Simcha Farm.

The Hatfields, who have raised animals on their Happy Valley land for 19 years, believe a cougar visited their flock Sunday night, a conclusion shared by state Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Win Miller.

They heard nothing but rain and wind throughout the stormy evening, so they can’t say what time the lambs were killed, but their wounds, Fred Hatfield said, were the kind inflicted by a mountain lion.

While a coyote or other canine attacks an animal’s hindquarters, a cougar goes for the head or neck, he said.

“We saw the holes of the fangs where they went in,” around the lambs’ heads, added his wife.

The big cat “ate one, killed the others and left them there,” Joanne Hatfield said. “It’s obviously not just looking for food; it killed for the fun of it.”

Miller, who spoke with Fred Hatfield on the phone Tuesday, said the signs indicate a cougar killed the Hatfields’ livestock, but not for pleasure.

The sheer power of a mountain lion’s paw, Miller said, easily destroys prey at close range.

The mauling of multiple animals “is not unusual,” he said. “It doesn’t take much for a cougar to kill, but it’s not doing it for fun.”

Yet “we want the animal trapped and caught so nobody gets hurt,” Joanne Hatfield said Tuesday morning.

Miller, however, said tracking the cougar isn’t practical this long after the attack.

“The hound hunters we do have [working with Fish and Wildlife] need a fresh scent,” he said, adding that Sunday and Monday’s rainfall all but wiped that out.

The Hatfields worry that a cougar on the prowl could hurt children walking home from school-bus stops in Happy Valley, or even attack an early-morning jogger.

Miller said that in the past 125 years, the state of Washington has seen one cougar-caused fatality.

“I’d be more worried about lightning,” he added.

“Their main source of food is deer; cougars eat about a deer a week.”

But “they like sheep,” too, Miller acknowledged.

Cougar sightings

As Happy Valley has grown more residential — the Hatfields’ 15-acre farm was by itself when they moved here, but now the hillsides are dotted with homes — such wildlife encounters have become more common.

“Cougars will be around. It’s a way of life when you live close to the woods,” Miller said. “Happy Valley is perfect habitat.”

The officer added that newspaper articles about cougar sightings or attacks are invariably followed by a flurry of more cougar reports.

He said that happened in Jefferson County, where a cougar prowling the Toandos Peninsula — an isolated finger of land between Dabob Bay and the Hood Canal south of Quilcene — was killed Sept. 8 by Bill Thomas of Coyle.

“We removed that cat,” Miller said, because the 120-pound animal “had been a menace; a big female,” believed to have killed three goats and three miniature horses.

The goats were killed in early September on Sea Home Road, while the horses were killed nearby in August. Fish and Wildlife officials weren’t sure, however, if the same female cougar was to blame for the August deaths of three nearby alpacas and a milk goat owned by Mark and Aly Stratton.

Last spring, other reports of cougar kills involved sheep on Tarboo Road, geese north of Quilcene and goats found dead in Quilcene.

The Toandos Peninsula and Quilcene reports triggered a selective cougar hunt that will run from Dec. 1 to March 15, said Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Phillip Henry. Private hunters will be permitted to take up to two cougars in a small portion of state Game Management Unit 624.

The unit stretches over an area from Quilcene to Port Townsend to Port Angeles, but hunting cougars with dogs will be permitted only from state Highway 104 south to the Quilcene River near Quilcene, Henry said.

Costly killings

Big-game hunters who own cougar-tracking dogs were required to apply for the special permits before Oct. 19.

For the Hatfields of Happy Valley, the attack was not only upsetting, but also costly.

The 8-month-old lambs lost to the predator would have sold for a total of about $1,000, Joanne Hatfield said.

Fish and Wildlife officers ask people to immediately report cougar sightings or possible cougar attacks by phoning the State Patrol at 360-478-4646 or by calling 9-1-1.

________

Sequim-Dungeness Valley reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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