Mayor's Report - July 2015

Living in Belcarra –– Cougar Safety

Mayor Ralph Drew

One of the main reasons that people move to Belcarra is the rural setting and the surrounding forests of Belcarra Regional Park. Accordingly, people need to understand that wild animals are a natural part of rural forested areas, and also need to remember that we are living in the backyard of the wildlife –– the wildlife have not moved into our backyard.

Throughout British Columbia, it is the Conservation Officer Service (1-877-952-7277) of the Ministry of the Environment that is responsible for dealing with wildlife issues involving bears and cougars. Conservation Officers respond to conflicts with dangerous wildlife where there is a risk to public safety. Examples of these situations include responding to attacks, bears breaking into buildings, repeated dangerous wildlife encounters at or near public locations, and situations where dangerous wildlife has become habituated (no longer afraid of humans) or food conditioned (dependent upon human provided foods) and therefore presents a risk to public safety.

Conservation Officers do not respond to routine sightings, normal wildlife behaviour, such as wildlife transiting through greenbelts or forested areas, nuisance conflicts or conflicts that do not pose a risk to public safety, or to situations where the complainant can take simple measures to address the problem, such as securing garbage, removing bird seed, or properly managing compost.

The cougar is the largest of the wild cats in Canada. A large male cougar can weigh over 100 kg but is likely to be in the 60-80 kg range. Typically, females are about 25% smaller than males. These cats are light brown in colour and are quickly identified by their compact head and large heavy tail which has a black tip. Cougar tracks are large padded prints with no claws showing. Like domestic cats, cougars keep their claws retracted until needed for attacking their prey or climbing trees. The following are some cougar facts:

  • Cougars are "spot and stalk" hunters and have extremely good vision.
  • Cougars have large home ranges, and males have been recorded traveling over 50 km in one day.
  • Young cougars stay with their mother for up to two years.
  • Cougars are secretive animals and are seldom seen by hikers.
  • Cougars also go by the name mountain lion, puma, and panther.
  • Many urban incidents occur with young cougars that have not yet learned how to hunt effectively or older animals that can no longer hunt in the wild.
  • Cougars have one of the widest distributions of mammals in the Americas and can be found all the way from Patagonia to the Yukon border.
  • Cougars are strictly carnivorous and usually hunt deer, but will also prey on raccoons, rabbits, squirrels or other small animals when the opportunity presents itself. When rabbits are plentiful they can form a substantial part of a young cougar's diet. Since deer are one of the cougar's primary food sources, there is a good possibility of finding cougars frequenting an area where deer are abundant. Contrary to popular belief, cougars do not pounce on their prey from overhanging rocks or trees, but stalk an animal and then use an explosive series of bounds to leap on their prey.

    Pets left outdoors to roam freely are easy prey for cougars, especially very young or old cougars who may not hunt efficiently in the wild and are looking for easy targets. Keep your outdoor pets behind fencing, and bring them in at nighttime. Don't feed pets outdoors; and if you must, make sure to clean-up any waste or crumbs. Pet food is a large attractant for small animals such as raccoons and squirrels, which are prey for cougars.

    Cougar Safety –– Fortunately, attacks on humans by cougars are relatively rare. According to statistics available on the internet, only one (1) out of every 150 deaths related to animals involves cougars. You are 12 times more likely to be killed by a bear than a cougar (3 deaths per year, versus 1 death in 4 years), and 60 times more likely to be killed by a dog than a cougar (15 deaths per year in North America). The following are recommendations from the Conservation Officer Service regarding people's safety around cougars:

  • If you encounter a cougar, keep calm. Make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the cougar. Immediately pick-up children and small pets. Never run or turn your back. Sudden movements may provoke an attack.
  • If you notice that a cougar that is watching you, maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak to it in a loud firm voice. Reinforce the fact that you are a human and not an easy target. Back-out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.
  • If a cougar shows aggression, or begins following you, respond aggressively in all cases as cougars see you as a meal: keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises, and show your teeth. Pick-up nearby sticks, rocks, or whatever you have at hand to quickly to use as a weapon if necessary. If the cougar attacks, fight back, focusing on its facial and eye area. Use rocks, sticks, bear spray, or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and are not prey.
  • Call the Conservation Officer Service reporting line (1-877-952-7277) to report the incident.
  • Children's Safety –– Cougars may view children as prey targets due to their small size, high-pitched voices, and quick movements. In the event of a cougar encounter, immediately pick-up your children. The following are recommendations from the Conservation Officer Service for children's safety:

  • Talk to your children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar.
  • Children playing outdoors should play in-groups. Do not leave children unsupervised.
  • Consider getting a dog or using a dog as an early warning system. A dog can see, smell and hear a cougar sooner than a human.
  • Consider erecting a fence around play areas.
  • Make sure children are home before dusk and stay indoors until after dawn.
  • If there have been cougar sightings, escort children to the bus stop early in the morning.
  • Remember:
    We are living in the backyard of the wildlife –– the wildlife have not moved into our backyard.


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