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Police Fire At Cougar Sighted On SOU Campus

Craig Hyatt via OPB
Cougar sightings have been on the rise in downtown Ashland.

Police tried to shoot a cougar on the campus of Southern Oregon University in Ashland Sunday night. This is the latest in an escalating series of cougar sightings in town. 

Ashland police got calls around 10:30 Sunday night about a pair of cougars hanging out near the SOU library. Officers were able to make enough noise to scare one of the cats off, but the other wouldn’t leave. Police Chief Tighe O’Meara authorized officers to shoot the animal.

"When a cougar is accustomed to being in a densely-populated area, like Southern Oregon University’s campus, right next to the library while the library is open, that’s a recipe for disaster," he says.

The shot missed and the cougar left. But several hours later a man walking his dog reported the animal within a few hundred feet of the same location.

O’Meara says he believes the cougar is the same one that’s recently been spotted in various locations in downtown Ashland. He asked local residents to keep an eye out for the animal and to call police with any new sightings.

The sighting on the campus of Southern Oregon University is just the latest in a spate of such sightings. People have recently reported seeing a cougar at several downtown locations, including near the Safeway and by the main firehouse.

Michelle Dennehy, with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says there are two main reasons cougars will start to show up in heavily-populated areas.

"Ashland has kind of a town deer issue," she says. "There’s a lot of deer in town, so (the cougars) could be driven by the prey that’s in town."

Dennehy also says young cougars will sometimes drift into town in search of a hunting territory that’s not already claimed by older cats. She says sometimes the animals will uncharacteristically show up in populated areas because they’re ill or malnourished.

Chief O’Meara says the animal may be killed if it’s seen again in a place that threatens public safety.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.