Conservation officers in Nanaimo were forced to catch and euthanize a young cougar and shoot a young bear this week.
The cougar was caught in a live trap early Tuesday in the Hammond Bay area, but conservation officers had little choice other than euthanizing the animal.
Sgt. Ben York, conservation officer supervisor for mid-Island region, said his office received numerous calls about the cougar from residents, ranging from Fillinger Crescent to McGirr Road and even Uplands Drive, for about two weeks.
“The cougar had not done anything aggressive towards people or pets, but it was being seen regularly during daylight hours in urban residential areas,” York said. “People could scare it away, but it was sitting in driveways and backyards in the middle of the day.”
The unusual behaviour told conservation officers the animal had become habituated to the presence of humans. Tests done after the cougar was put down showed it did not have any diseases, such as rabies, that could otherwise account for the behaviour.
“It was a younger animal and, frankly, the reason it was there is because the place is polluted with deer,” York said. “It found a place with tons of food and it stayed.”
York said the decision was made to destroy the animal because it had become used to urban environments and relocating it would only mean it would find its way back to a similar environment and pose a risk to humans and pets there.
“There is no way to retrain the animal, no way that teaches it to go back to the wild,” York said.
York said residents should never feed or otherwise attract deer – and consequently their predators – to urban environments. Often cougars will come into town and then leave again after a short period, but this animal was ‘setting up shop.’
There is no conservation concern with cougar populations on Vancouver Island, which has one of the highest cougar population densities in North America.
“The fact of the matter is when you create an environment with a lot of prey, predators are going to move in and we’re not going to put the public at risk,” York said.
A small, young bear met a similar fate in south Nanaimo Saturday at about 4:30 p.m.
“It was a sub-adult male, probably on its first year away from mama,” York said.
Calls had been coming in for several weeks about the bear in backyards, chasing chickens and displaying no fear of humans.
At one call York responded to, RCMP officers were trying to ward of the bear by throwing rocks at it.
“It just stared at them until they actually hit it and then it just ambled off,” York said. “So again, it was an animal showing extreme habituation to human beings, had already shown an interest in livestock and it was not leaving the area.”
On Saturday a conservation officer attended a yard where there were chickens on Strickland Street. The officer was able to approach within 10 metres of the animal and it showed no fear. It had become so habituated to humans relocation was not an option, so the officer opted to shoot the animal in the interest of public safety.
Again it was livestock and other food attractants in the area that offered the bear easy fare and ultimately contributed to its demise, York said.
For conservation officers who got into their line of work to protect wildlife, having to destroy an animal is the worst part of their job and they become angry with the public when people will not harvest fruit, or refuse to secure pet food and garbage that attracts wildlife into urban areas.
“Something I say quite often is that we might be the ones that pull the trigger, but the public is the one that killed the animal,” York said.