Warning: this post contains explicit photos. Of dead deer possibly killed by a cougar. I’ll tell the story and share the evidence. Maybe someone who knows more about predator behavior than we do can shed more light on these kills via a comment or email.
Near dusk yesterday I went for my usual walk with our dog, Serena, around Spring Lake, which is about half a mile from our rural south Salem home. When I got to the dock area I saw a small dead deer on the grass.
That’s not too unusual. A few years ago another deer was found nearby, half in and half out of the water. It seemed to have died of natural causes. This present-day deer was partly chewed up, but I figured that could have happened post-mortem. Dogs or coyotes could have wandered by and taken some bites.
I don’t like to look at dead animals, so I got Serena to stop her curious sniffing and continued around the lake. A couple of hundred yards further on I found another dead deer.
This time I took a photo. That’s a (detached) deer ear on the right side. It was getting dark but I could see bits of fur and flesh in the grass nearby. Now I began thinking, “cougar.” The walk back home through the woods had a bit different feel to it than usual, though I figured that Serena would let me know if a big kitty-cat was around and the dog was acting normal.
Where the deer had been stashed and further eaten. A round organ (stomach?) was detached from the body. I didn’t want to crawl too far into the brush and disturb any tracks that might be there, so this flash photo is rather dark.
The first deer that I’d found hadn't been moved. I’m pretty sure that it had been gnawed on some more. Laurel thinks that these deer are the “twins” that we used to frequently see in our yard or elsewhere around the neighborhood. We’re sad to see them dead. However, the balance of nature has to work itself out.
So, did a cougar kill these deer? I suspect so, for several reasons. First, someone on the other side of our Spring Lake Estates development is certain that a cougar killed one of his goats last year. “What else,” he told us, “could kill a goat and then leap over a 6 foot fence with the animal in its mouth?”
Further, this description of cougar predation says:
They usually carry or drag their kills to a secluded area under cover to feed and drag marks are frequently found at fresh kill sites. Cougars generally begin feeding on the viscera (liver, heart, lungs, etc.) through the abdomen or thorax but like other carnivores, individuals differ. Some begin feeding on the neck or shoulder while others prefer the hindquarters. Like other cats, cougars normally leave relatively clean-cut edges when they feed compared to the ragged edges of tissue and bone left by coyotes.
Clean-cut edges. That’s what my first photo shows.
And on another cougar-related web page I read, “The deer's rumen (major stomach) was almost always buried in a separate leaf mound several feet away from the carcass. The rumen was never consumed.”
Check. Just what we saw today (though the stomach wasn’t buried).
It was cool to also read that “The cougar usually bedded down for the day near the carcass, but sometimes up to 1.5 km away.” Laurel and I enjoy the thought that Big Wild Things are nearby, unseen yet seeing us.
We don’t believe in killing cougars just because they’re close to human habitation. So welcome to the neighborhood, my feline friend, if you truly have paid us a visit. We’ll respect you but not fear you.