Cougar reports made to the Conservation Officer Service this year in Nelson are the highest they have been in the last seven years according to WildSafeBC’s wildlife alert reporting program.
In fact, they are about 50 per cent higher than the next highest year. Several reports were made of pets and livestock being lost to cougar predation over the last year, mostly along the North Shore. Sightings are increasing across southern B.C. and the University of British Columbia Okanagan is initiating a study to determine why.
Several factors may be at play such as increased wildfires and changes in climate. These can both impact the abundance and distribution of deer. Cougar distribution is closely linked to deer as they are their primary food source. New cougar research will hopefully yield more answers as to what is causing increased cougar sightings.
Attacks on people are rare, however there were two attacks in the Kootenays last summer. Small children, and pets, rather than adults, are most often targeted. Keeping pets and small children close when out on a hike is the best way to prevent them being viewed as potential prey by cougars. Travelling in large groups close together is the best defence.
Bear spray is also an effective defensive tool against cougars. Unlike most bear attacks, which are defensive, cougar attacks are usually predatory. If you encounter a cougar and don’t have bear spray, you need to confront the cougar. Turning your back and running is the worst course of action. Make yourself look really big, raise your hands and stand on a rock or log. Act aggressive, shout, and stomp your feet. If the cougar continues to advance, prepare to fight back, and strike the cougar in the face. Don’t play dead with any animal that is attacking for predatory reasons. This only works for bears that are defending cubs, or are startled by your sudden appearance, and are defending themselves.
To prevent attracting a cougar to your property, don’t feed deer. If you have chickens, use tall fencing and use electric fencing around your coop. Supervise children and pets if you live on a wildland interface, and have a fenced area where they can play. Cougars can leap tall fences, but it will provide some deterrence, and hopefully give you some reaction time.
Cougars are most active between dusk and dawn. Making sure pets are not roaming free at this time is a good practice. If you see a cougar on your property repeatedly over a few days, the cougar may have a kill close by. Call the Conservation Officer Service using the RAPP line to report these occurrences (1-877-952-7277) and any conflicts with wildlife.
Dave White is a co-ordinator for WildSafe BC. He can be reached at 250-505-6007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.