Cougars and Bears

Cougars and Black Bears are usually associated with remote wilderness, but they are frequently present in rural areas and are occasionally even spotted in or close to cities. They are highly intelligent animals who quickly learn to take advantage of new food sources that become available.

Black Bears are omnivores, but their diet is largely plant-based. A typical bear diet includes grasses and herbaceous vegetation, skunk cabbage, sedges, some flowering plants, berries, fruits, nuts, insects, eggs, small mammals, carrion, and occasionally elk calves or deer fawns.

Cougars are carnivores. Deer are their preferred prey, but they will also eat elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, raccoons, coyotes, rabbits and small rodents. Cougars occasionally prey on small pets and livestock that are allowed to roam freely unsupervised or that are kept in open pens or pastures that have not been properly secured against predators.

If you find a cub

If you find a bear or Cougar cub you think needs help, always call PAWS at 425.412.4040 before attempting to approach, pick up or contain the animal. We can help you determine if the cub needs help. Mother bears and Cougars are extremely protective of their young ones, so you don't want to get between a mother and her cub. Often these cubs are not orphans and mothers are not too far away.

Solving and preventing conflicts

Bears and cougars are generally shy, and they try to avoid contact with humans as much as possible. This is becoming increasingly challenging for them as the human population continues to expand and more and more wildlife habitat is developed for human use. These animals need a lot of space, and every year they have less land available to them. As neighborhoods appear in what was formerly prime bear and Cougar habitat, conflicts are likely to occur.

The best advice for co-existing with these large mammals is to make well thought-out decisions about managing your home, property, or outdoor activities. Forethought will go a long way in preventing conflicts.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides very useful information about Black Bears and Cougars. On their Living With Wildlife web page you can learn more about bear and Cougar behavior and how to ensure you are not accidentally creating an environment that could cause dangerous conflicts. The site also gives useful tips on what to do if you should encounter a bear or Cougar up close.

PAWS' work

Since PAWS Wildlife Center's beginning, we have provided rehabilitative and medical care for more than 60 Black Bears at our rehabilitation center and hospital. The majority of these bears have been orphaned cubs, but we have worked with adults and sub-adults as well. Post-release research performed on more than a dozen Black Bears released by PAWS has indicated that they reintegrate back into their natural environment well, and they avoid humans just as their wild raised counterparts do. PAWS receives Cougars much less frequently than bears, but we have cared for about 10 in the past 28 years.

Most bears that PAWS receives are brought to us by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, but we have also rehabilitated bears from Oregon and California. Some common reasons cubs need help include:

  • Cubs are orphaned when their mother is killed by a hunter or poacher.
  • Cubs are orphaned when their mother becomes habituated to human-supplied food sources and is subsequently killed when she is deemed a "nuisance animal."
  • Cubs are orphaned when their mother is hit by a car, train or other vehicle.
  • Cubs are injured after being hit by a car, attacked by a dog, or some other human-related incident.
  • Cubs become separated from their mother and are found wandering alone and hungry.
  • Black Bears are sometimes relocated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife if they wander into populated areas. Occasionally mothers and cubs become separated during the process. If they cannot be reunited with their mother, the cubs may be brought to PAWS.

Cubs may stay at PAWS for only a few months, or as long as a year depending on when they are received and the extent of their injuries or illness. If they are healthy and have a good layer of fat as winter approaches, we often induce hibernation and then place the sleeping bears in a winter den at a remote release site. If they require care throughout the winter months, bears are released in the spring as soon as the snow in the mountains begins to melt and natural food sources are available.