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Are There Wild Cats in Oregon?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Canadian Lynx standing on rock

Oregon’s diverse landscape makes it the ideal home for over 139 species of mammals. The state has mountain ranges, massive valleys, evergreen forests, desert plateaus, and redwood forests. Although wildlife sightings have increased in recent years, you may not see the state’s two wild cats. Mountain lions and bobcats are Oregon’s only native wild cats, but the Canada Lynx has been spotted on rare occasions. However, the Lynx does not have an active population in Oregon.

Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Mountain lion sitting in front of fallen tree
Image Credit: NickyPe, Pixabay

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state has over 6,000 mountain lions. Also called cougars or pumas, the mountain lion is the second-largest felid in North America. The Jaguar is larger, but it’s more common in Mexico and South America. Mountain lions have vast ranges that cover over 100 miles and can appear in any region in the state. They’re more populous in the Blue Mountains in the northeast and Cascade Mountains in the southwest of Oregon.

Mountain lions have tawny coats, white bellies, and long tails that measure half the length of the animal’s body. Young cats have brownish brown spots that disappear when they grow into adults. The mountain lion is busy hunting for deer, raccoons, elk, bighorn sheep, and other small mammals and birds at dusk and dawn. Although it’s a solitary hunter that only looks for companionship for mating, female mountain lions stay with their cubs for at least two years.

Hikers and other Oregon residents sometimes confuse the tracks of the wild cat with dog tracks. They have similarities, but dog tracks show the claws above the pads, and cougar tracks do not display nail prints due to the animal’s retractable claws. Mountain lions are large, powerful cats, but fatal attacks involving humans are incredibly rare. Although there is no exact number, the number of deaths by cougars in North America since 1890 ranges between 24 to 27.

In 2018, an Oregon resident encountered a mountain lion while jogging in Oregon State University’s Dunn Research Forest. He waved his hands above his head to appear larger, but the cougar crept closer. The jogger kicked the cat in the head when it got too close, and the animal ran back into the woods. While running away, the man looked behind him and saw the cougar chasing him. The man tripped and fell, but a pair of hikers with a dog appeared on the trail, and the cougar ran away for good.

After the incident, the Department of Fish and Wildlife tracked the cougar with dogs and killed it when they drove the cat into a tree. The killing created a backlash, with wildlife supporters insisting the animal did not need to be killed and wildlife officials defending their actions. The cougar did not injure the jogger, but wildlife officials claim they cannot relocate an animal that’s considered aggressive because it could attack someone in the new location.

Protecting Your Children and Pets from Cougars

pvc fence
Image Credit: Genotar, Shutterstock

Most mountain lions reside in remote forested areas, but they set up habitats close to their prey’s range. If deer often visit your backyard, you may have to modify your property to keep the deer and mountain lions away. Here are some tips for making your yard less wildlife-friendly.

  • Install fences around gardens to keep deer away. Deterrent sprays can also be applied to discourage nighttime visits.
  • Remove all pet food and bowls.
  • Use heavy-duty trash cans that are wildlife-proof.
  • Remove debris and yard waste around your home. Cougars like to have cover when they hunt, and a clean, wide-open yard is not appealing to the cat.
  • Install motion-activated lights.
  • Keep kids and pets indoors at dusk and dawn.
  • Never allow children to play outside unsupervised.

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)

Bobcat crouching on top of boulder
Image Credit: bmarxdueren, Pixabay

Like the cougar, the bobcat is a carnivore that feasts primarily at dusk and dawn, but the cats can be active during the day or night. Bobcats are much smaller than cougars, and they’re typically twice the size of house cats. The cats’ coat color can vary, but most have red, blonde, or charcoal gray fur. Their spots can range from prominent rosettes to barely visible dots, and their famous bobbed tails have black stripes and a black tip. Bobcats in the state’s western regions tend to have reddish coats and distinct markings, and the eastern cats have gray coats and whiter bellies.

Bobcats can eat deer like the cougar, but the animals usually prefer smaller prey. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, most of the deer meat examined from bobcat stomachs has been identified as carrion. Bobcats are the primary predator of the mountain beaver in western Oregon, but they also hunt mice, squirrels, birds, rabbits, and wood rats.

Bobcat cubs are weaned until they’re 2 months old, and they leave their mother’s territory to establish their own range before they’re 12 months old. It’s illegal in Oregon to pick up bobcat kittens or raise them as pets. Wildlife officials discourage residents from raising the animals because they can become accustomed to human feedings and turn aggressive when someone refuses to feed them. Bobcats are usually afraid of people, but small children and pets are more vulnerable to a bobcat attack if they’re left unattended.

Protecting Your Children and Pets from Bobcats

  • Avoid feeding any wildlife in the area. Feeding small mammals can attract bobcats.
  • Keep the children indoors at dusk, dawn, and nighttime.
  • Remove pet food bowls.
  • Keep the area around bird feeders clean or remove the feeders.
  • Contact pet control technicians to eliminate rodent infestations.
  • Install fences to keep wildlife away from your yard.

Wild Cat Hunting

hunting with a rifle
Image Credit: mtorben, Pixabay

Hunting cougars in cities or towns in Oregon is illegal, but in rural areas, cougars can be hunted from January 1st to December 31st or until the state’s hunt quota is reached. Hunters cannot shoot kittens or adult females with kittens.

Under Oregon’s state law, bobcats are considered protected furbearers. Hunters and trappers can kill bobcats from December through February, but the number of kills allowed varies between western and eastern regions. Unlike cougar hunting, hunters do not need a Department of Fish and Wildlife permit to hunt bobcats.

Final Thoughts

Oregon is an ideal home for wildlife lovers, but you may have trouble spotting an elusive bobcat or mountain lion. As human developments expand further into wild cat territories, sightings of bobcats and cougars are likely to increase. However, most wild cats, unlike the one encountered in Dunn Forest, are not interested in confronting humans. When you hike in groups, supervise your children’s activities, keep pets indoors, and protect your home from wildlife, you’re unlikely to encounter one of Oregon’s majestic wild cats.


Featured Image Credit: Reimar, Shutterstock

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