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Cougar killings offer lessons for residents

A commissionaire’s too-close-for-comfort brush with a cougar that ultimately ended the animal’s life carries lessons and warnings for the public, says a conservation officer.

The incident happened at the Saltair Mill in Ladysmith on Sept. 22 at about 8 a.m. when the watchman spotted the cat eyeing him from some lumber piles in the mill yard about 100 metres away.

“It was coming towards him, so he runs to his guard shack,” said Stuart Bates, conservation officer. “He had to cover about 10 metres and when got to the guard shack and closed the door, the cougar was behind him outside the door, which means that cougar covered 100 metres in the time it took him to cover 10 – which is why we tell people, ‘Don’t run.’”

Because the cougar stayed near the mill, located on Ludrow Road on the Ladysmith waterfront, following the incident, the time of day it occurred and that the animal had no qualms about chasing a full-grown man, Bates responded to the scene with a houndsman.

Within 10 minutes of arriving, the dogs tracked the cougar to an old office building, within 50 metres of the guard shack.

“[It was] 10 metres behind that building, it was still sitting there,” Bates said. “A young male about three years old, and yes it was put down unfortunately. When they start showing that kind of behaviour in that kind of location … Transfer Beach is right there if it wants to keep going.”

It’s the second incident in the mid-Island where conservation officers shot a cougar – last month officers killed a cougar in north Nanaimo. They also killed small bear south of the city in the same week.

Incidents between cougars and humans are still rare, but the numbers of calls about cougar sightings have risen sharply since the 2010-11 province’s fiscal year (April 1 to March 31) when people reported 640 sitings on Vancouver Island.

For 2011-12, complaints leapt to 1,861 and 2012-13 tallied 1,712 calls.

“So far this year we’re at 1,411,” Bates said. “It’s been a very, very, very busy year for cougars for us.”

The reason for the sharp rise in numbers is simple, Bates said. Deer populations are rising rapidly in urban and semi-urban areas and more deer draw more cougars following their food source.

“Cougar attacks do happen,” Bates said. “They’re more common on Vancouver Island than other places, but they’re still not that common.”

The most recent attack in the Island region happened in Cow Bay on remote Flores Island, about 20 kilometres north of Tofino, Sept. 9 when a woman was attacked.

Her husband fought off and ultimately killed the animal with a spear.

Vancouver Island has a large cougar population, Bates said, and sub-adult cougars recently separated from their mothers will seek out easy meals and are the most common cougars conservation officers deal with.

“The best advice I can give people is don’t feed deer and don’t feed racoons in your yard because you will attract cougars,” Bates said.

Pets are at risk too. House cats and small dogs should be kept indoors at night. When cougars take down a deer, house cats will be drawn to the smell. A cougar will kill a cat just for showing up at its kill.

Bates said people need to be aware cougars are around and to be vigilant and remember two things if they encounter a cat.

“Don’t run and don’t scream,” Bates said. “You do one of those two things and you can cause an attack. It’s a predator. If you run from a predator, he assumes you’re edible.”

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