Cougar, puma, or mountain lion: different names, same animal. A very large, strong, fast, and dangerous predator. Cougars do not fear man or dog, because it has been illegal to hunt them for decades. The population has increased to the point where mountain lions are entering rural areas and preying on pets and domestic animals with increasing frequency. Joggers and mountain bikers have been attacked and killed by cougars in California in recent years.

Jewele ("You-Leh")

In early October 2006, the weather was getting cold and wet. Not far from our lama pasture, I noticed muddy footprints on the road which looked like cougar footprints. We had never seen a cougar since we moved here in 1998, although a few neighbors had. In my naivete, I only thought of finally catching a glimpse of this elusive predator. It did not occur to me that a cougar was HERE and was scoping out our lamas as future prey!

Two days later, after dark, our lamas were alarm-calling, agitated, and bunched up by the driveway fence. We walked out on the driveway to investigate, taking a gun and a spotlight. The light revealed two sets of orange eyes 100 yards away, across the pasture, outside the fence, at the edge of the forest. Joe wanted to shoot at the eyes, but I said, "Wait! Let's count heads first. What if it's an alpaca?" When we counted, we were one short.

So, we walked back to the gate and entered the pasture, scanning it with the spotlight in search of the missing animal. We found his body next to the fence bordering the forest, about 50 yards from the street.

Suddenly we got very nervous about the owners of those two pairs of eyes we had seen so nearby. Jewele's killers could still be close! We swept the forest with the spotlight, but saw nothing. Then we heard the sound of dead leaves scattering as animals bolted, then silence. Were they gone, or did they simply fall back a little?

We weren't sure what to do. We didn't have a barn to put the other animals in, nor a guard dog, nor any way to keep the pasture lighted at night. The battery on our rechargeable spotlight would run down in only 20 minutes, and we had no spares.

Nervous, unsure, and with limited time, we considered our options. If we removed the carcass, would the killers return and kill again? Or, would leaving the body where it was lure the killers back, possibly to kill or injure our other animals?

We decided it was better to remove the body. Loading a dead and stiffened 150 pound alpaca into a wheelbarrow in the dark with an unseen predator just over the fence was NOT fun. Nor was it easy to wheel it out of the pasture over long grass and muddy, uneven ground. We put it in the garage, which at least could be closed up, to rob the killer of his prize.

By then the spotlight battery was run down, and would take 12 hours to recharge. We decided to buy a spare spotlight as soon as possible!
I called the county's Government Hunter, who we had met before at the Fair. But his voice mail said he was not available due to budget shortfalls. So we were on our own, with a dangerous killer nearby. We spent an uneasy night, listening for signs of any more trouble. There were none.

The next morning, we examined Jewele's body. He was stiff, and quite a bit of blood had drained from his mouth, indicating internal injuries. But there was hardly a mark visible on him. His fiber was about 2 inches long, which may have hidden some injuries. But his body was intact, there was no sign of his killer having fed on him. There were only a few small tooth marks on his head, ears, and upper neck. His neck, however, was loose and floppy, not stiff like his legs, so it may have been snapped at the base in the initial attack. There were already maggots coming out of a small slit wound in his brisket, so he must have already been dead for a day or two before we found him. In fact, he must have died the very night after I saw those muddy footprints.

We then searched the pasture for clues. We found a small amount of blood (a tablespoon) near the corner of the pasture where the edge of the forest met the paved road. There also seemed to be drag-marks in the grass along the fence, heading towards our house and away from the road, as if the killer were trying to find an opening in the fence so the prey could be dragged into and hidden in the forest. There were small hunks of Jewele's fiber stuck in the grass, as though mouthfuls of it were being pulled and spit out along the way. The ground was too rough for any footprints to show.

It appeared that Jewele had been sleeping near the corner of the pasture, and his killer came down from the National Forest land across the street, jumped over the 4 1/2 foot tall combo panel fence, broke Jewele's neck, then dragged him 100 feet with his head or neck in its jaws, before either giving up or being frightened away by traffic on the road. The entire episode had not created enough noise to awaken us, nor did we hear the lamas alarm-calling.

By early afternoon the carcass was starting to smell, so a neighbor with a tractor took the body away and buried it. When we did finally talk to the Government Hunter, he gave us a wealth of good advice, and suggested that next time, we leave the body in place, so that he could examine it and determine the identity of the culprit and how to catch it when it returned the next night to feed.

We immediately mowed and trimmed the grass short outside the pasture fence, and cut down many saplings and small trees to push back the edge of the forest. This was intended to reduce the cover a predator could hide in while stalking our animals.

I was fairly sure that only a cougar would have been strong enough to drag Jewele so far. The Government Hunter thought it could have been coyotes or even a pack of dogs. But I thought a group of smaller animals would have caused more damage to the carcass while dragging it than what we had observed. Also, mountain lions are known to drag their prey, whereas that is not a normal dog or coyote behavior. However, we had no evidence, and I had almost convinced myself that the Great Dane and Pitt Bull living next door had done the deed, when our next killing happened, 11 months later, which removed all doubt.


Herz ("Heart" in German) was a small, brown, gelded alpaca whose fiber faded to an unusual, attractive shade of dark red. He was another rescue we got in 2006, a sweet but feisty little guy. Herz was quite "spitty" with the other lamas (he had to be, to keep from being bullied) but he never spit at people. He was quite endearing, always bright and cheerful. He loved being squirted with the hose on his underparts in summer, and would stand on his hind legs, dancing for joy and wiggling in the spray. Then he would race away while tossing his head, to roll around in a dust bath. Herz was very good on a lead, a pleasure to take on walks, and one of our easiest alpacas to work with for toenail trimming and such.

Herz was the second alpaca we lost to a cougar, the day after Labor Day in September, 2007. At about 5AM, while it was still pitch dark outside, I awoke to a noise, like a quack or croak. Still in bed, with the window open overhead, I thought to myself, "Either a duck is quacking awfully early (unlikely), or something is choking to death."

When it got light, I went outside to check on the animals. Herz was not with the other lamas, who were all gathered near the corral, so I started searching the pasture on foot. I found him lying next to the fence, dead and partially eaten, in the exact spot where we had found Jewele the year before. Damn! The cougar was back! The croaking noise I had heard was undoubtedly Herz's last gasp as he was being throttled, 100 yards from the house. This knowledge made me shudder. The other lamas were keeping as far away from his body as they could get.

Herz, 1st Day

Herz, 2nd Day
We went back to the house and called the Government Hunter for our county. While awaiting his arrival, we searched for footprints and other clues, and found some yellow-gray hair caught on the top of the fence. We showed him this, and he examined Herz's body, finding many bite marks on the face and upper neck. He was not convinced the killer was a cougar until I directed him to the elk trail that emerged from the forest just outside the fence where Herz lay. There, a few yards away, the Government Hunter found cougar tracks in the mud. He set up a neck snare and told us to leave the body where we found it. If the cougar returned that night to feed again, the snare might catch it.

The Government Hunter returned with dogs the next dawn, but they weren't needed: the cougar had strangled to death in the snare, on its way out of our pasture, after feeding again on poor, poor Herz.

It was a mature female cougar, around 150 pounds, in perfect health. I knew there was a doe and two fawns nearby; why had the cougar not killed them, its proper prey?

Since the cougar had been killed on our property, we were allowed to keep it, if we wanted to. In the end, we gave the skin and head to one neighbor who wanted to make a trophy rug from it, and we gave the meat to another neighbor. (Cougar meat tastes like pork chops. I tried some once, at a pot luck party!)

Thinking that the "cougar pasture" was unsafe, we moved the lamas to another. Little did we know that the next attack would not take a year to happen!

Herz avenged
Herz Avenged


Only 4 days after Herz, Traum was killed by a second cougar. At this point we freaked out, and evacuated our remaining lamas to a llama rescue farm in another town. They might still be at risk there, but we now felt like a bull's eye for cougars had marked our property.

While loading the camelids into the trailer, we noticed that our last remaining gelding alpaca, Zobel, was wounded in the rear ankle. It was slit open down to the bone, but had stopped bleeding. Apparently he had just barely escaped with his life. It would cost us almost $1,000 in vet fees, medicine, bandages, and boarding at the llama rescue, and take over 3 months for his wound to heal, before we could bring Zobel home.

Where Traum was killed was much more open, and there was no obvious direction that the cougar came from, nor elk trails it would have followed, so the Government Hunter couldn't expect snares to work. He arranged for cougar-hunting dogs and more people to come before dawn the next day, to try to catch the killer.

Early the next morning, we met the lion hunters, but were instructed to stay indoors and out of the way. The dogs ran to and fro, unable to find a trail despite the cougar having fed on Traum again. After an hour, the dogs finally tracked the cat across the road (almost getting run over in the process), treed it, and the hunters shot and killed it.

It was a young male, probably around 2 years old and just learning to hunt. That would explain why it and its mother attacked our alpacas: easy targets to practice on. Since it was killed on Forest Service land, we were not allowed to keep this one.

A neighbor took Traum away with his tractor, for burial next to Herz. I was sad to lose Herz, but devastated about Traum's death. I had spent so much time and effort training him, and had come to love him dearly. I had taken him for a hike for his very first time only a week earlier, and then he was brutally taken away from me. I cried and cried for him.

Traum, 1st Day
Traum's killer
Traum's killer
We now had to arrange for an enclosed barn to be built before winter set in, before we could bring our other lamas back home. We decided to expand our woodshed, and enclosed part of it with cattle panels, to let in light and air, so the lamas would not be afraid to stay there.

In two months the barn was ready, and all the camelids except wounded Zobel came home. We put pellets, hay, and a little alfalfa in the barn to lure the animals in at dusk. They quickly learned to gather in the corral and run into the barn when I whistled them in. They also liked staying dry at night during our excessively wet and long winters, and this also cured the foot rot some of them had suffered from when living unsheltered in the pasture full-time.

Having to lock up the animals at dusk and let them out again in the morning makes our daily schedule quite inflexible, but we've adjusted to the inconvenience. At least we've had no more losses to cougars. So far. But I wonder how long it will be before they start to attack in broad daylight? The next chapter (below) does not bode well.

Traum, 2nd Day
Finn & Girlfriend
Finn & Girlfriend


Friday, July 10, 2009, was a bright, sunny day. At about 12:45 PM I was sitting down to lunch, when about 6 peafowl flushed into the trees in the back yard. I looked out the window and saw a cougar face in the bushes, just inside the fence. I got the .22 rifle, slipped on some shoes, and went outside looking for it. I didn't see it where it had been, but then spotted it sitting just outside the goat corral, staring at the frightened goats. It was small, but with no obvious spots, so it wasn't this year's cub.

I tried to sight it in with the scope, but my glasses got in the way. I put them up on my head, then took aim again, from about 30 or 40 feet away. It didn't even look at me as I pulled on the trigger, which DIDN'T BUDGE. I tried 3 times before realizing the safety was on! Still the young cat sat in profile, watching the goats. I flicked off the safety, aimed at the center of the upper body, and fired.

The cat immediately turned around and ran towards the river. I heard it hit the fence. I ejected the cartridge and worked the bolt to chamber another bullet, while slowly moving towards the river and looking around for the cat. I saw it sitting next to the fence, and shot it again in the chest. As I looked up, I saw ANOTHER cougar face about 40 feet away and to the right!

I turned and took aim at the second cougar cub, but before I could fire it spooked, bashed into the river fence, then scrambled over it into thick brush and disappeared. I turned back to the first cougar, which was lying down, obviously badly hurt, but still breathing. I shot it a third time in the shoulder area from about 10 feet away, and finally in the throat, pointing up towards the skull, from a few inches away. Then it finally stopped breathing.

I had not seen the cubs' mother, and the goats were still very upset, so I patrolled for about 10 minutes, then tried to lock the goats in their shelter. But they wouldn't both go in at the same time; in fact, Finn escaped into the yard and I had to waste time and attention getting him back into the corral!

Meanwhile, I got my film camera and took a few pictures of the dead cougar, one with the rifle next to it, one showing how close it was to the house (about 70 feet away). The cub's body was the same length as the gun: 3 feet. The tail was another 2 feet long or so. It probably weighed 40 or 50 pounds. The paws were HUGE, as big as my hands.

At this point I gave up trying to lock the goats in their house. I checked to make sure the cougar I shot was still there, still not breathing. AOK.

I went into the house and reloaded the clip. I hadn't been nervous or scared while shooting the cougar, but now my hands were trembling! I called Lester, my 98-year-old neighbor across the river, to warn him about cougars in the area. He said his cows were all bunched up, and now he knew why! He thanked me and offered the use of a higher-powered gun. But I didn't want to take the time to go get it.

I called the Government Hunter to report killing the cougar cub, wondering if I'd get in trouble for shooting it BEFORE it killed any of my animals. He was laid up from an operation the week before, and couldn't have come over anyway, so it was a good thing I took matters into my own hands! He said he'd send an officer over in an hour or so to fill out the paperwork.

I looked around to see if the cubs had gotten any peafowl. Apparently not, there was no body or pile of feathers. But if any were outside the fence in the thick brush by the river, I might not be able to see the evidence.

Cougar and Gun
The officer showed up after about 2 hours. The cat's body was already stiff. I asked if it was male or female; with rubber gloves on, he had to look hard before he decided it was a male. He offered to let me keep the cat. I considered having it stuffed and/or butchered (by Lester) for the meat. But it was small enough that neither seemed like a good idea. So I let the officer take it to ODFW for study. It was about 3 PM when he left.

I locked the animals in their barns a bit early that night, and heard elk blowing in the forest just behind the goat corral. "Good," I thought, "Elk wouldn't come here if there were still cougars around."


The next day, at about 6 PM, I was looking out the window at the goats, who started snorting and stomping, and staring towards the forest in fear.

Again, I got the .22 rifle and also the .38 pistol, and went out to investigate. I stood outside the goat corral, trying to see any movement in the forest, as the goats milled around, coming up to the fence to look, snort, stomp, then run away, then do it all again. This went on for about 20 minutes. Occasionally they'd look toward the road, so finally I went over and saw a small tan cat moving along the fence. I went closer, to see if it was inside or outside the fence. Outside. It was pacing back and forth, apparently trying to figure out how to get through. I tried to aim the rifle at it, but it kept moving constantly, and was hidden in the brush most of the time. Plus, I would have been shooting through 2 layers of fence, and if I only wounded it, I'd never find it again. And it was not DIRECTLY threatening my animals, so I decided not to shoot.

I finally got a good look at the face, and it was a BOBCAT. It had long, dark jowl fur that came down to a point well below its jaw. Well, I went back and told the goats, "It's only a bobcat, I don't think you need to worry about him."

But the peacocks kept honking, and the goats kept acting nervous and looking into the forest directly behind their corral, not to the right where the bobcat was. I spoke loudly to them, to let any predator know I was a human. No effect. I considered firing blindly into the trees. But I didn't. I've tried that before, only to find out that (A) it was a DEER, and (B) the sound of a gun does NOT make our local wild animals run away!

After 5 or 10 minutes, I went back to see if the bobcat was still pacing the fence line. I saw something coming; but this time it was a COUGAR CUB! I got a very good look at the whole body, so no doubt about it. Damn! What was going on? I wondered if the cougar mom had gone through the goat paddock just to get to the river for a drink of water. The goats had occasionally looked in different directions, as if what they feared was moving around, just out of sight.

This had all taken about 45 minutes so far, which was too long for a cougar just to get a drink. And it was getting a bit dark, as the high fog (marine layer) had moved in from the ocean. So I decided to put everybody to bed early, 2 hours before dark, so they'd be locked up in their barns where whatever-it-was couldn't get them. First the goats, then Rocky the crippled old patriarch peacock who sleeps in the garage. Then the male llama and alpaca gelding, because all 3 cougar kills before were geldings; then the female llamas and alpacas. Luckily, they all cooperated quickly.

I called the Government Hunter again, who said he'd send a guy with dogs either Sunday or Monday. But it rained over 1/2" on Sunday which may have washed away the scents, and now it's Monday afternoon and I haven't seen or heard from the cats OR the hunters.

I'm more and more thankful I took matters into my own hands! Now if we could just get a more powerful rifle that wouldn't break my shoulder with its recoil...

Elaine "the pioneer woman" !!!

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