A recent sighting of a cougar in urban Nanaimo has prompted words of caution from a conservation officer.
A woman reported to conservation officers that she was walking her dog along a trail at Long Lake Saturday afternoon when she saw a cougar come out of the water. She rushed from the scene with her small dog and was unharmed, but according to Stuart Bates, B.C. conservation officer, running from a cougar is not recommended.
“Rule No. 1, if you’re confronted by a cougar, is don’t scream and run,” Bates said. “It’s like rolling a ball in front of a cat. Sometimes they can’t not chase it.”
The best thing to do is to make yourself look big by throwing open your coat, holding a backpack over your head or opening an umbrella, say conservation officers. Talk to the animal and back away slowly the way you came and always maintain eye contact with the cat.
“If the cat wanted to catch her it would have caught her [and] most people,” Bates said.
Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare, but the chances of being attacked by a cougar on Vancouver Island are better than just about anywhere else, Bates said, because of the number of cougars on the Island. Even so, the average is less than one attack per year on the Island.
“We haven’t had one now for a couple of years,” Bates said.
The last documented cougar sighting in the Long Lake area was on Aug. 30.
“They come out of Linley Valley,” Stuart said. “Usually they go the other way. They go down to Hammond Bay towards Neck Point or they head into Departure Bay by the golf course and they do swim. That’s how they get to islands like Gabriola Island.”
A pet cat was allegedly killed by a cougar in August, but pets such as cats and small dogs, Bates said, should be kept indoors at night to avoid being harmed or killed by a range of predatory wildlife that lives in and around Nanaimo, including cougars, raccoons, eagles and owls. Also, if a cougar kills a deer, house cats will be attracted to the scent of the kill and once at the scene the cougar might see the cat as competition for its food and kill the cat.
“We have cougars … We’ve also had a couple out at Westwood Lake, Buttertubs Marsh,” Bates said. “It’s that time of year. As the deer start to come to town as winter approaches. the cougars are going to follow them.”
Bates also said it’s important to call conservations officers right away after spotting cougars or bears. Early reporting could avoid allowing time for the animal to become accustomed to humans and possibly becoming problem.
“We do not remove them based on their presence. We remove them based on their behaviour,” he said. “If their behaviour warrants it, we will remove them. In rare circumstances to we relocate, though.”
To learn where cougar and bear sighting locations have been recorded in and around Nanaimo and to find out how to respond to predators when they are encountered, visit https://wildsafebc.com/.