South Island park warden-turned-author George Mercer reads from his latest book, Fat Cats, at the Vancouver Island Spring Market on March 31. (Photo submitted)

Park warden-turned-author George Mercer reads from latest book in Nanaimo

New book ‘Fat Cats’ covers cougar poaching in Gulf Islands National Park

A rogue park warden and a notorious cougar tracker face off when a cougar is spotted on the Gulf Islands in the latest book by South Island warden-turned-author George Mercer.

Mercer worked at six national parks from coast to coast during his 35-year career with Parks Canada, inspiring four mystery/suspense novels that he calls “the first fiction series written about national parks in Canada.”

“The idea behind the series is that it follows my main characters across the country,” Mercer said. “My wife and I are both wardens, it’s not about us – it’s very much fictionalized – but it’s certainly based on experiences we had and it’s based on real issues facing parks.”

His books have covered poaching in the Cape Breton Highlands, bison conservation in northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park and the impact of development around Jasper National Park in the Rockies. Mercer’s new book, Fat Cats, covers the Gulf Islands.

“The main thing was to try to use a fictional angle to attract readers who might not want to read a technical piece or a non-fiction piece,” he said.

Mercer will read from the book at the Vancouver Island Spring Market at Nanaimo North Town Centre on Sunday, March 31. It’s his first reading in Nanaimo.

In 2004 Mercer moved to the Saanich Peninsula to help establish Gulf Islands National Park and serve as park warden and monitoring ecologist. He quickly noticed that thanks to a dearth of natural predators, the islands host a large deer population.

“Within the first few months that I was here a cougar showed up on one of the islands and before we as a new national park had any chance to even respond to it, it was shot by the RCMP,” Mercer said. “As I spent more time here, I realized the lack of predators on the islands is a real challenge.”

That realization formed the basis of Fat Cats. In the book, warden John Haffcut discovers a cougar living in Gulf Islands National Park. He determines it’s not a threat to humans and doesn’t tell anyone, including the park superintendent who’s still trying to establish the new park and build support among the locals.

“He’s an older warden, a little bit disgruntled,” Mercer said of his protagonist. “He’s been around long enough to know the bureau-speak and he’s kind of got his own way of doing things which are not always consistent with the way the outfit works.”

Trouble strikes when an island resident discovers the cougar and calls a tracker to hunt it down.

“At one point, towards the end of the story, John kind of puts his career and the fate of the cougar on the line to try and keep the cougar there,” Mercer said.

WHAT’S ON … George Mercer book reading at the Vancouver Island Spring Market at Nanaimo North Town Centre on Sunday, March 31 at 2:30 p.m.

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