Clockwise from top left: Police dog Jager, a queen Asian giant hornet, Alfred the cat, Philippe the golden pheasant. (Photos submitted)

Clockwise from top left: Police dog Jager, a queen Asian giant hornet, Alfred the cat, Philippe the golden pheasant. (Photos submitted)

Top 10 most-memorable animal stories of 2019

Nanaimo News Bulletin wrote about piranhas, police dogs, giant hornets, a golden pheasant and more

Nanaimo News Bulletin readers liked reading about their furry, feathered and finned friends during 2019.

Numerous stories about animals – both wild and tamed – made the news this past year, with many of them among the best-read articles on our website.

1. Fishermen land piranhas in Nanaimo’s Westwood Lake, Sept. 27

It wasn’t quite like a scene from the Piranha movie series, but two fishermen were surprised when they caught something much different from the rainbow trout they were angling for.

Thomas Lee, a visiting university student, was fishing from the bluff rocks in Westwood Lake, one of Nanaimo’s most popular summertime swimming areas, when something hit Lee’s bait and he reeled in what appeared to be a piranha.

The B.C. Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources confirmed that the fish was positively identified as a red-bellied piranha and was the second such fish caught in Westwood Lake since the summer.

The ministry noted in an e-mail that while the red-bellied piranha has a reputation as an aggressive predator, “the risk to humans is low.”

2. Nanaimo beekeepers take down nest of giant hornets, Sept. 19

Local beekeepers went and disturbed a hornets’ nest.

Four people, including members of the Nanaimo Beekeepers Club, eradicated a nest of Asian giant hornets that they located along the creek behind Robins Park in Harewood.

Conrad Berube, local beekeeper, said club members John and Moufida Holubeshen were provided with information about stings and specimens.

“They had a map of tracking information like that and made some very good guesses as to what the biological requirements of the hornets would be,” Berube said.

They called him up because he has experience with removing yellow jackets’ nests, and along with club president Peter Lange, the four of them bundled up in heavy clothing and took down the colony. A carbon-dioxide fire extinguisher was used to “anaesthetize” the hornets, Berube said.

“We proceeded to remove the wasps basically by the handful,” he said.

3. Nanaimo RCMP and police dog track suspect through wintry backcountry, Feb. 20

A break-in suspect was taken into custody on weapons and property-related charges after police dog Jager and Nanaimo RCMP officers tracked the man for hours through snow and rugged terrain.

David Banford was found inside a private cabin at Nanaimo Lakes by private citizens, who called police, but Banford used pepper spray to make a getaway. Constables set out to track down the suspect, which took them on a two-hour trek, following Jager’s lead, through 30-centimetre deep snow, brush and up and down steep mountainous terrain.

As Banford struggled after being bitten by the dog, the arresting officer judged the suspect as “still motivated to escape [and] because of these factors, ‘took the fight out of the suspect with two stun strikes with a closed fist to the face.’”

Banford was found to have suffered puncture wounds to his buttocks and leg and a fractured eye socket and fractured nose.

A report by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. found that the level of force used, given the circumstances, was not excessive.

4. Nanaimo girl made it her mission to find the cat on the ‘missing’ poster, Sept. 10

A 10-year-old Nanaimo girl, motivated by a ‘missing cat’ poster, took up the search herself and helped bring a lost pet home.

Bella Salvino, an École Hammond Bay student, got on her bike, formed a search party of one, and located a cat – one she’d never seen before, except on a poster – that had been lost for two and a half weeks.

Bella said she put up the poster to remind her to try to find the cat, Alfred.

“To be determined to do something, you have to remember it constantly and every day, get a little closer to actually doing anything you want to do,” she said.

She located the cat close to home, taking shelter in a storm drain.

“I couldn’t believe that a little girl would take it upon herself to go out and search for a cat that wasn’t even hers…” said Britni Campbell, the cat’s owner. “For someone that young to have that much of a heart, it’s good to know that we’ve got hope.”

5. Owners say baby goat stolen from Yellow Point Farms near Nanaimo, April 28

Someone may have taken baby goat snuggles too far.

The owners of Yellow Point Farms near Nanaimo allege that one of their baby goats, just 12 days old, was stolen during a baby goat snuggles session at their farm.

“We didn’t want to believe that,” said Rebecca Dault. “We were like, there’s no way someone would steal a goat. But after looking for hours and hours, there really is no other explanation. There’s no sign of him. There couldn’t have been predators because there was so many people.”

The allegedly stolen goat has “very rare colouring,” Dault said, gold with “moonspots” and blue eyes.

The farm owners said they wouldn’t ask any questions if someone returns the goat to their front pasture, but unfortunately, the missing goat was never found.

6. Nanaimo dragonboat racers didn’t mind delay due to killer whales, July 7

The Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival featured fast-paced paddling – the only time the action slowed down was to let a pod of killer whales pass.

The visit from the orcas, right in front of Maffeo Sutton Park, was one of numerous highlights of the Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival this past July.

“That was a first, and it was a very exciting first,” said Leslie Sutton, Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society spokeswoman, about the visit from the killer whales.

Arlene Witham, one of the Quality Foods Blu By U paddlers, said she couldn’t believe it when the orcas surfaced so close. Later, she joked to one of the directors, “How did you pull that one off?” she said.

“That’s never happened before. It was just incredible, and they had a baby with them, so that was just awesome,” Witham said. “Everyone was completely enthralled by it.”

7. Miniature horse recovering after ear bitten off in pit bull attack in Nanaimo, Sept. 18

A therapeutic miniature horse is now the one requiring care after its ear was bitten off in an attack by two pit bulls south of Nanaimo.

The two-and-a-half-foot-tall horse, named HaliBerry, was first attacked by the dogs in its stall and the attack continued out into the field, said the horse’s owner, Eileen Stevens, of Golden Maples Farm in Cassidy.

“My horse is very badly injured, she’s missing her left ear, but she’s a fighter … and she’s going to recover,” Stevens said.

The dogs broke through her wire fence “like it was spaghetti” and Stevens and her brother tried to fight off the dogs with a walker and a broom.

Colin Scruton, equine surgeon at Equerry Equine Surgery and Sports Medicine hospital in Nanaimo, said the horse would recover.

“She was in a lot of pain and suffering and shock for the first day, but she’s very interactive [now],” he said.

8. Nanaimo ferry stops to let bear swim past, May 18

It was a busy weekend for B.C. Ferries, but one of the vessels took time for a ‘bear pause’ in Nanaimo.

The Queen of Oak Bay briefly stopped in Departure Bay at about 8:30 a.m. to let a bear swim in front of the path of the vessel next to Saysutshun Newcastle Island.

Conservation officers got numerous reports of the bear’s wanderings over the ensuing couple of weeks, too, with CO Stuart Bates calling the animal “our media star.”

“Apparently the only thing he got into that he wasn’t supposed to was he got into some birdseed on Protection Island, so we just told people to put it away and expect him to return,” Bates said.

9. Escaped pheasant caught at Nanaimo mall after a week-long chase, May 7

A golden pheasant was reunited with its owners after a week-long chase started in Lantzville and ended in Nanaimo.

The bird, Philippe, flew away and went missing for more than a week. Lantzville neighbours had been keeping an eye out for the pheasant, but could never quite catch it.

“Philippe would hang out with the chickens and we didn’t realize he could fly, but he can,” said Beth Neilson, the bird’s owner.

The pheasant was spied outside Woodgrove Centre’s Avalon Landmark Cinemas where a Winners driver caught it in his coat.

“He’s happy, the chickens are happy and my husband’s really happy. So everything’s good,” Beth said. “I think he just wanted a little adventure and I can’t really blame him for that.”

10. Nanaimo man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack, May 24

A man who fell off a cliff and had to be rescued happened to end up back in the very same place, this time as the rescuer.

James Farkas, who fell down an embankment on Bayshore Drive in 2018, was back there this past spring and helped an eagle facing near-certain death get a shot at soaring local skies again.

Farkas was visiting friends when one of them noticed some unusual activity on the beach the house overlooks.

“So I went down to the beach and I seen all these turkey vultures just hammering on this eagle, like, seven or eight of them. Just beating on him,” Farkas said. “So I go down to the beach and chase the turkey vultures away and he had a broken wing, so I corralled him, took my shirt off, put it over him, picked him up and brought him home.”

The site where Farkas spotted the eagle was the same place he was rescued after falling down the cliff and breaking his femur nine months earlier.

“I got rescued and then I sort of had to pay it forward and rescue the bird,” he said.

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