Cougar capers come to an end

These cougar tracks were made in front of the Fish Hatchery buildings.

These cougar tracks were made in front of the Fish Hatchery buildings.

The day before yesterday, two hunters ‘let the games begin’, and came out winners. Not only have we been victimized by marauding bears this week, but also there has been a cougar, as one neighbour succinctly put it, “terrorizing the neighbourhood”. The cougars ‘games’ began several weeks back when it killed and ate several pet cats, attacked at least two dogs and killed one (that I know of). It has also been feeding on deer from the wild, and was finally spotted again two days ago.

Thankfully, cougar hunting season is open and a couple of hunters took up the challenge and started tracking the cat. The first couple of times, it led them through people’s barns, yards, and even through someone’s shop (and the people hadn’t known it was there!). In the end, the the daylight hours proved too short and the cougar too elusive.

The alarm was raised in the morning when a hatchery worker arrived at work and, spotting the tracks in the snow all around the buildings, immediately notified the hunters. It led the men on a merry chase for several hours in the worst of conditions we’ve had this winter: bitter cold, extreme slush, lousy footing, and icy streams. It led them across several streams (they broke through the ice up to their crotches), then back and forth several times until their dogs finally treed the cougar just beyond the airport, not far from my house, and they shot it; it was a healthy adult male, weighing in at 128 pounds.

I’m relieved because I have seen him around my place, prowling at night. Thanks to him and the raucous vigilance of my dog, many a sleepless night was had these past few weeks. It makes for nerve wracking animal husbandry efforts, knowing that there is a cougar on the prowl, particularly when I have to go out to the goat pen in the wee hours of the morning and again at night in the dark (4.30 pm), to fetch them out or in. With a nod to the cougars’ recent habituation to our community, many people have said about my goats, “Enjoy them while you have them.”

I worry for my animals every day, and I’ve lost lots of them to the various species of resident wildlife. When a cougar is on the prowl, I worry about my goats and dog especially. But what is a girl to do? On the one hand, it is good to leave my dog out because she is my ‘early warning system’ and, for an inexperienced cougar, possibly just enough of a deterrent to make him change his mind. However, the reality is that she is no match for a determined cougar and so she may lose her life if I let her stay outside–even during the day (dogs here are often referred to as ‘cougar bait’ because so many are taken each year).

Cougars are getting more and more bold here in the valley, and we are the worse off for it. Not only have they taken dogs from yards; they have begun taking them right in front of the people walking them, and, on at least one occasion, while one was still on the leash! To date they have killed our pets and attacked adults, severely injuring them, and I fear for our school children who walk to school and play on the school grounds during recess (two cougars were spotted on the Native school grounds last year). Is this any way to live?

When discussing our problems with cougars the other night, the Conservation Officer (who had been dispatched from Williams Lake to deal with our chicken-killing marauding bear) told me we shouldn’t fear cougars. Instead, he said, we should respect them. I felt like saying, ‘Tell that to Cindy Parolin’s family, or to her son, who was attacked first by the cougar, and whose life she was defending when she lost hers, because the cougar killed and half ate her alive before someone shot it.’ Or say that to the myriad other families who have lost loved ones to cougars (or bears), sometimes in their own backyards.

If I don’t have to fear cougars, why have there been these deaths? Why does all the literature on cougars (even from our own Ministry!) advise us to defend ourselves strenuously if attacked. It warns us not to play dead because, unlike non-predatory type bear attacks, when a cougar attacks it intends to kill and eat you. Cougar attacks are always predatory, yet this man, whose job is to serve and protect the public, believes we shouldn’t fear them? Puh-leeease.

The cougar I no longer have to fear.

The cougar I no longer have to fear.

Most people in the valley who hear that kind of statement laugh at the ridiculousness of it. Why? Because they know what a cougar can do to you. The doctors and nurses here know what the cougar (and bear) injuries look like. They know that it only takes 4.5 mins for someone to bleed out if a jugular vein is cut by a claw or fang. Not only that; they are acutely aware of the severely limited operating capacity of our remote hospital. They know just how lucky the few who have been attacked were, to get away with their lives.

In addition, the people here know that there has been a recent change in cougar (and bear) behaviour, and that the new Ministry of Environment policies outlawing the hunting and trapping of cougars and bears as a preventative protection measure are at least partially responsible (and likely the major contributing factor) for the change in predator behaviour.

Unfortunately, the majority of our population now resides in cities, and this majority is creating the policies that us rural folk have to live with. The sad thing is, even though many people have lost their lives because of this thinking, the rules and legislative policies are still not changing. Our society is running an incredibly dangerous experiment by presuming we can ‘live in harmony’ with wildlife. We can’t, never have, never will. It’s a dangerous fallacy and a ridiculous fantasy.

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12 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Conservation, Cougars, Ethical farming, Food Security, Goats, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food

12 responses to “Cougar capers come to an end

  1. Interesting and well put points. Especially, about the larger population living in the cities making rules that don’t apply so much to rural areas. Mercifully, we don’t have many cat problems in Northern New York. Plenty of coyotes though. And a moose in the road every now and then. Excellent post.

  2. Jo

    Talk about food for thought.

    My biggest worry is a beautiful (as in I’ve never seen one with such stunning colours) young fox, one of this year’s cubs, who is bold enough to come up to the house when the dogs aren’t about!

    Is there any reason why large predators are getting so bold around human habitations? Is it a environmental impact, losing their habitation to human development, or simply opportunism?

  3. Jo–primarily, the change is due to our lack of hunting and trapping thanks to the recent changes in legislation. For as long as humans have been on this earth, we have been in direct competition with the other large predators of the forest (savannah, oceans, etc) for our livelihood. Until these changes in Canada (and in the US too I believe), we shot at anything that came into our settlements. This is no longer happening and we are now seeing the effect of this. Also, we used to hunt a lot more than we are now. This kept the population of predators down to a dull-roar, it also trained them to fear humans. Lots of people believe that animals have a ‘natural’ fear of man, this also is a fallacy. They learned to fear man because of our aggressive stance we took with them out of necessity.

    Next time you watch a program on bears, listen carefully to the narration. You will likely hear things like ‘bears are naturally afraid’ or that they will ‘likely leave the area if you make noise’ so they ‘recognize you has human’ or that they are ‘timid by nature.’ My favourite is that ‘we can live in harmony’ with wildlife. You’ll be amazed at the language used around these issues once you revisit this issue afresh.

  4. Phew! You must be relieved, I know that cat has worried you for so long now.

    It’s inevitably sad when the life of such a beautiful animal is brought to an abrupt end…..however when it causes such fear & as you say, is a a grave & dangerous threat you cannot afford to be sentimental.

    Only problem is, how long will it be before the next one steps into his mighty pawprints…..? I shudder at the thought.

    BTW I think that CO needs his head testing. As you say, cougars are naturally predatory beasts: & I’d certainly be frightened of anything with paws, claws & fangs that big; frankly anyone would be daft, not to be! Where do these people get such crazy notions? Ah well; perhaps if – like you – he had to live in more direct & constant contact with these threats, he’d feel a little more awake to it…….

  5. Jo

    Having gathered my thoughts since first thing this morning, here’s is my profound thought for the day:

    The problem with “living in harmony” with nature is that nature is not harmonious. Animals live by tooth, fang and claw – and to live with animals, we have to set the same boundaries and claims to territory that they do, otherwise we endanger ourselves as a species.

  6. Here the hunting of large predators with dogs has been outlawed. We only have black bear and they aren’t too much of a problem, but the cougars are a different story.

    It is legal to hunt cougar here, but most are taken by deer hunters that just happen upon them, they are not being hunted. Without the dogs, the humans are at a disadvantage. After being stalked by cougars, and losing livestock to them, I know what you are going through.

    However, it is ironic that our best meat customers who are willing to pay for properly raised meats are also the ones who have the least understanding for how hard it is to keep farming and live “harmoniously” with the predators.

    Great Post!!!

    • The men who hunt the cougars here will say that without the aid of dogs, you cannot successfully hunt cougars (unless you happen upon them as your deer hunters have done). Outlawing the hunting of cougars with dogs is the sort of legislation that is creating the increase in predator problem! Yes, funny what you say about your meat customers. I have similar customers who will likely be offended by my posts. Are your customers willing to pay for the replacement costs of complete decimation of your turkeys (or cows, or pigs) to a marauding bear or cougar?

  7. Jo–excellent point “The problem with “living in harmony” with nature is that nature is not harmonious. Animals live by tooth, fang and claw – and to live with animals, we have to set the same boundaries and claims to territory that they do, otherwise we endanger ourselves as a species.”

    I, like many, feel bad when a major predator looses its natural fear of humans, and has to be relocated or killed. Cougars are particularly bold.

    I once watched a program where a woman in California was attacked while mountain biking. She barely survived and is now horribly disfigured. Her biking partner was able to beat the cat off with a large rock and call for help. Help arrived by land, as did many other bikers. It was determined that Life Flight would need to be called in. When they arrived, they (caught on camera to prove it), the cat was but 100 feet away in the brush. It wasn’t afraid of the crush of people or the helicopter!
    After a policeman and wildlife officer were able to kill it, they did a necropsy. It had no sign neurological damage or rabies. It was determined that it was simply waiting for everyone to leave so he could eat.

    The worst we encounter around here is coyotes and the occasional bobcat. Cougars are rare, but have recently come back into the spotlight. What is happening in the wild areas here outside Austin, is that predators get landlocked, so to speak. A neighborhood goes up and they push to the nearest forest. Then another neighborhood goes up and their forest gets smaller. Soon, they are surrounded. They quickly discover that domesticated animals are plentiful and much easier to catch than deer and other small prey.

    There will always be people that feel like large predators were here first. I wonder how those folks would feel if say, the American Indians, said the same thing. I bet there’d be some major backpeddling.

    Very interesting, and well thoughtout points everyone. So much better than just ‘shouting’ matches I’ve seen elsewhere regarding similar subject matter.

    How goes the bear situation?

  8. EJ

    How will you deal with the next cougar to show up?

    Here all the cougars were trapped in the 70’s and now there are way too many deer…..

  9. EJ-where are you that there are no longer cougars?

    PS-maybe we could send you the next one that shows up to help deal with the deer!

  10. I’m with you. I’m all for trying to live in harmony with predators when it makes sense; but I definitely think the ones that are too bold and have too low a flight distance from humans need to be taken out of the gene pool.

    Heaven forbid those animals breed, and teach their young to also have no fear of humans such that they casually stroll through buildings and snag children and pets right in front of us. I also wonder if the bold marauding isn’t caused by overpopulation of that species, such that they start getting desperate for food. Another valid justification for hunters thinning some of them out, to help keep things in balance.

    Good luck, sounds like you guys are having a real headache this year! Scary for you and your livestock!
    Michelle

  11. suburbanbushwacker

    The trouble is that we city dwellers have no concept of how big predators are or how well armed they are. We only see them on animal planet – with a commentary telling us how hard it was to get close enough to film them.

    I told some friends about my mate who has a baboon skull from a very aggressive male who had been terrorizing the african village he worked in, they were appalled to hear it had been shot, then they were appalled at their own ignorance when they realized that it stood just over five feet tall and had fangs about two and a half inches long, kick-ass molars and a bite as strong as a Pit bull.

    In the city a Pitt bull is the most dangerous animal that you’ll encounter, people are afraid of them often for good reason. So its a useful context for explaining what you’re up against, that cat you’re holding would eat Pit bulls as warm sashimi in a new york minute!

    great writing as always
    Regards
    SBW

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