By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Wash., Feb 27 (Reuters) - An 11-year-old girl shot and killed a cougar that was trailing her brother near their Washington state home, the fourth cougar killed by the same family in the past three months, a state game official said on Thursday.
The girl was returning from school on Feb. 20 and her brother, 14, was walking home in the small town of Twisp, about 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Seattle, with a malnourished cougar behind him.
Their father, Tom White, saw the cougar and yelled to alert his son. Once the boy had scrambled inside, the girl, who also entered the house, retrieved a rifle and shot the cougar, said Sergeant Dan Christensen of the state's Fish and Wildlife Department.
The four-year-old cougar, who weighed 50 pounds (22.5 kg), or half her ideal weight, had been trailing the family's cattle the day before she was shot, Christensen said.
The cougar was the ninth to have been killed in the area beginning in December, with four shot by members of the White family, including one by the 14-year-old boy. Five were hunted down by state wildlife officers responding to calls of the big cats threatening people or domesticated animals, Christensen said.
An increasing number of cougars have been sighted in the narrow Methow Valley, Christensen said, though it is not clear whether the trend owes to a surge in the area's big cat population or to the predators' difficulty in finding enough deer to prey upon in the nearby hills.
The White family is steeped in hunting and "knows where its meat comes from," Christensen said. But it hasn't been free from controversy.
Tom White in 2012 pled guilty to illegally killing two federally-protected wolves. He was sentenced to three years' probation and a hunting ban and his wife and father also pleaded guilty to charges, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Christensen said there was no indication of any wrongdoing in the killing of the cougar and White himself could have legally shot it if he feared for the safety of his family. (Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Grant McCool)