DNA Test of Slain Cougar Proves Inconclusive in Case of Hiker Death

After killing one cougar detected in the area where a hiker was killed near Mt. Hood, Fish and Wildlife officials have decided to call off their search for the culprit.

Posted: Sep. 21, 2018 1:39 PM
Updated: Sep. 21, 2018 3:28 PM

ZIGZAG, Ore. —

UPDATE: While "all available evidence" suggests that a cougar killed by Fish and Wildlife officers on September 14 was the one responsible for Diana Bober's death, forensic testing of the body proved inconclusive.

“It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one that we killed last week,” said Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore coordinator.

The cougar that trackers killed was seen on a trail camera set at the precise site where Bober's body was found, according to ODFW.

However, ODFW says that contamination of the evidence on Bober's body may have made it impossible for the Ashland forensic lab to extract "relevant DNA" evidence collected from the scene to use for a comparison the cougar killed on Friday.

“The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar,” said Ken Goddard, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab.

“We could not get the DNA evidence we had hoped to obtain in this case,” said Broman. “However, all the evidence available shows we have the right cougar.”

Trackers and a system of trail cameras set to watch a roughly 78-square mile area around where Bober's body was found only detected one cougar in the space of a week — the one that was killed Friday, bagged, and sent to Ashland for testing.

Because of this, ODFW believed that they likely had found the cougar responsible for Bober's death, but said that they could not rule out the possibility that another cougar was responsible.

“Our highest priority was to capture the cougar responsible for the attack to protect public safety,” said Broman. “We continued to monitor the area for other cougars to increase the likelihood that we caught the right one while evidence was being examined.”

The slain cougar was a 64.5-pound female, estimated to be several years old. By that stage in a female cougar's life, ODFW says, a "home range" of roughly 20-30 miles has been established. Male cougars have a larger range of 50-150 miles.

Analysis of the cougar's exact age could take another month.

“It is impossible to determine why the cougar attacked Diana. There is no sign that it was sick or unhealthy and a rabies test was negative,” continued Broman. “Wildlife behavior is unpredictable but cougar attacks are extremely rare throughout the Western U.S. where cougars are found.”

“We hope the ending of these operations brings some closure for Diana’s family,” continued Broman. “All of us extend our deepest sympathies to the Bober family.”

(Updated 9/21/18 at 3 p.m.)


INITIAL REPORT: Little more than a week after Oregon Fish and Wildlife officers began their hunt for the cougar believed responsible for an Oregon hiker's death near Mount Hood, the agency says that they are calling off the search.

"ODFW is ending cougar capture operations in the Zigzag area," the agency said in a brief statement on Friday. "Only one cougar was detected and killed (on Sept. 14). No other cougars have been detected over a week of trail camera monitoring."

The cougar that trackers killed on September 14, a female, was promptly sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab in Ashland for analysis and comparison to DNA taken from the body of 55-year-old hiker Diana Bober.

ODFW says that they they will be releasing new information on the case at 3 p.m. on Friday, while holding a press conference. They did not specify whether this release would include conclusions from the Ashland lab.

This is a developing story, and NewsWatch 12 will post updates to this article as new information becomes available.

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