LEAVENWORTH — While Washington Fish and Wildlife officers were tracking a cougar two blocks from downtown Leavenworth, Leslie Spangler was walking to the art studio behind her home, unaware their paths would soon cross.
“[The cougar] jumped over the fence into our enclosed patio,” Spangler said Monday. “The (fish and wildlife) officers were tracking him. People have sighted him in the neighborhood for the past several days. Apparently, I missed him by minutes.”
That was around noon Sunday in the area of Benton and Whitman streets. The cougar was hiding behind her studio when Fish and Wildlife officers subdued it with a tranquilizer dart, Spangler said.
The cougar was tagged and then relocated to an area outside of Leavenworth, said Capt. Mike Jewell with Fish and Wildlife. He described the cougar as a sub-adult — older than a cub, but younger than a mature adult. Jewell wasn’t sure of its gender.
“The goal here is that it doesn’t come back because if it’s a repeat offender and we find out it is, in fact, causing problems — either killing domestic animals or being a threat to people — then we have to reevaluate our circumstances,” Jewell said. “We hope that doesn’t happen and we’re really hopeful that this takes care of it.”
Cougar sightings aren’t unheard of in Leavenworth — a young boy was injured one night in July 2019 when it was attacked by a cougar in Enchantment Park — but they’re not often seen midday, Jewell said.
“There are cougars that move through the Leavenworth area all the time that people have no idea are there … because they move predominantly in the hours right before sunrise and just after sunset,” Jewell said. “So it’s uncommon to see them in the day but it’s not incredibly unusual either.”
According to Jewell, the state is home to more than 2,000 cougars, and they come to areas like Leavenworth frequently.
“So the fact that we never see them, it’s a good thing, but it is hard to imagine when you know how many cougars we have here in Washington. We’ve got a healthy population but they manage to avoid us an awful lot.”
Jewell isn’t sure what drew the cougar into the downtown area, but explained that cougars follow prey, like deer, in the winter, which themselves are often drawn out of the mountains to the Wenatchee and Icicle rivers.
“Leavenworth is one of those communities that has two major wildlife corridors running right through it ... and it’s not uncommon for wildlife to follow those corridors,” Jewell said.
A cougar sighting at home was a first for Spanger. A bear walking through her yard was the next most comparable encounter, she said.