In the almost ten years on their farm south of Kaslo, owners have never had an encounter with a cougar, until this week when two different cats visited.
Angela Burton lost a turkey when one cat broke into a pen and a few days later, she was awoken in the middle of the night to discover a cougar tangling with her dog.
It all started Monday morning. “My dog was going berserk in the back field,” said Burton.
Her husband walked their two children down a long driveway to the school bus while she went to check what was amiss.
“I discovered the gate on my turkey pen had been ripped off,” she said. “It was all crumpled in a heap and there were feathers everywhere.”
That gate was well made, strong and included electric fencing and barbed wire but it didn’t keep the cougar from its turkey meal, one of 12 heritage breed birds. A trail of blood led to the bushes on the outskirts of her property and she decided to get backup — a friend with hunting dogs.
“He found the spot where the cougar had buried the turkey completely with moss,” said Burton, impressed by the animal’s instincts to stash his prey and the scrape marks from claws that went deep into the ground.
From the kill spot, the friend put his dogs on the scent and within a half hour the 80 to 85-pound healthy cougar was treed and “dealt with.”
With this experience still resonating, Burton was woken in the middle of the wee hours of Wednesday to the sound of her dog Tango “screeching on my front porch.”
“I went out my front door to find my dog had its jaws around a cougar’s throat,” she relayed. “And the cougar had my dog’s skull in her mouth — this was five feet from my front door.”
The hobby farm consists of ten acres yet the cat seemed comfortable near the home which was concerning. Burton’s has ducks, chickens, ponies, cats and turkeys on their farm about four kilometres south of Kaslo.
“It targeted my 89-pound dog,” said Burton.
While her husband grabbed a rifle, Burton stood in her underwear ringing the triangle-shaped dinner bell hung just outside her door, the tangled animals about two feet below.
“I grabbed the bell and hung it over the cougar’s head and rang it as hard as I could and yelled in its face. It let go and ran,” she said, laughing about what was sure to be an odd sight. “It’s a good thing that the cougar didn’t grab me. If had to be hauled away in an ambulance with a death grip on a metal triangle, I would have been pretty embarrassed.”
This cougar was larger than the first one. With the help of the same friend, dogs and the support of a conservation officer, the cat was tracked heading north, spotted several times but it remains elusive.
Tango is receiving the hero treatment and is inside recovering well despite the huge puncture wounds to her head and slashes to her body from claws.
“They do pretty serious damage,” said Burton. “She looks like an old fighting dog. She’s pretty sore and looks terrible.”
Burton’s youngest child is six-years-old and she has concerns about them being outside.
“After watching how it can lift a dog up like that, it could easily take a 40 lb child and take off with them. The kids are on lockdown,” she said.
There have been additional sightings of another cougar with one-year-old cubs in the area. Burton was impressed by the professionalism of the conservation officers who made multiple trips to her farm. WildSafe BC also promptly contacted her with advice on fencing and other ways to ensure against further problems.
“This is a great community to live in and this is always reinforced when you have a problem,” she said.
Frank Ritcey is the provincial coordinator with WildSafe BC. He explained that several cats within one area isn’t the norm.
“Cougars are quite territorial and adult male cougars don’t tolerate other adult male cougars in their area. They will put up with a female cougar a bit more but typically you don’t see cougars sharing territories,” he said. “This is what usually triggers most human-cougar conflicts.”
Ritcey suggests people be careful attracting deer to their properties with either fruit left on the ground or simply feeding the ungulates.
“If you are brining deer into your community, then you are going to expect to see an increase in cougars because deer are the primary food source for the cougar,” said Ritcey.
Properly securing livestock is also important, he said, as is keeping pets in during dusk and dawn, which are prime feeding times for cougars. However, there are some cases where property owners are doing all the right things and the cats still come through.
“If you do see a cougar, you want to make yourself as big as possible and as unlikely a meal as possible for the cougar,” said Ritcey. “Raise your arms. Look at the cougar directly. Speak loudly. They’re going to check you out and figure out if it’s worth the risk to take you down as a meal.”
The WildSafe coordinator says 99 per cent of the time, “a cougar will see you long before you see it and it will clear out of the area.”
This is the Burton’s first experience with cougars despite encounters with bears. Raccoons, skunks and birds of prey have all taken animals before. She doesn’t have a problem with that understanding that she lives remotely. But this wildlife experience reigns different for the woman.
“A cougar is sneaky and willing to come right up to my house – this was scary, especially with kids,” she said of the animal she also admires. “I am really in awe of how fabulous an animal they are – not that I want them in our yard.”