PORT ANGELES — Olympic National Park personnel have been watching game cameras but have seen no sign of cougars on the trails that the park had closed after a July 29 attack at Lake Angeles.
The trails had been closed after an 8-year-old boy was attacked by a cougar while he and his family were camping at the lake in the Heart O’ the Hills area of the park south of Port Angeles.
His mother saved him by screaming at the cougar, scaring it off, and he reportedly suffered only minor injuries.
The park has multiple game cameras set up in the area and they are checked regularly, said Amos Almy, park spokesperson, in an email sent Wednesday after the Peninsula Daily News had requested information numerous times, beginning the day after the attack.
“Half of the cameras transmit via cell reception, so wildlife biologists can check them quite easily,” Almy said.
“The other half have to be checked manually, which has been done daily.”
Almy said that dogs, which were used the day after the attack, will be brought back to the search if an uncollared adult cougar that is exhibiting unusual behavior, such as hanging out by a trail or showing no fear of humans, is spotted. Dogs are unable to pick up a scent more than about six hours old, he said, and dry conditions make tracking more difficult.
“There have been no sightings on any of the cameras yet,” Almy said Wednesday. “Cougars do have large territories, so it is possible it has left the area. Park protocol calls for a full closure for a full three weeks, unless evidence of the cougar is found.”
On Tuesday, the park had reopened Switchback Trail and Sunrise Ridge Trail. Those two were reopened because they are the farthest away from the place where the cougar attacked, he said.
The Lake Angeles/Heather Park Loop remains closed.
“There has been a fear that the park will find the wrong cougar,” Almy said. “If any cougar is found, it must match the description” of an “uncollared adult cougar that is exhibiting unusual behavior.”
Park officials have said that the protocol is to capture the cougar, euthanize it and conduct a necropsy in hopes of understanding its unusual behavior.
Almy said some people have raised questions about the possibility of capturing and releasing the cougar somewhere more remote instead of killing it if it is found.
“Habituated animals will still exhibit the same behaviors in other areas of the park,” he said. “Plus, as shown in a Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe study, cougars are very far-ranging. One example is a cougar that was seen at Shi Shi Beach, circumnavigated the whole (North Olympic) Peninsula.
“So it is very possible, the cougar could just return to the same location quite easily,” he added.
Almy works part-time as a public information officer for the park in addition to his regular duties, he said, and also he was off last week. While he was gone, there were no reports on the cougar attack from the park.