Cougar capers begin again

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

This cougar has a belly full of dog.

Ahhhhh, spring is in the air and my garden is starting to grow. While I’m excited about all that spring and early summer offers with respect to new life and growing possibilities, there are things I am beginning to dislike about it–like the bears and the cougars. When the first signs of skunk cabbage are up, I know it’s time to brace myself for the possibility of ‘bear encounters’, because it signals that the bears are awake and heading down into the valley from their alpine boudoirs. Cougars, of course, don’t hibernate, so we can have trouble with them at any time of the year; but the longer days mean longer hours of worry.

Two Mondays ago, my neighbours’ dog went missing during the night: and not just any dog, but a Great Pyrennese guard dog. He was one of three Great Pyrennese dogs they kept to guard their sheep and llamas. The next night a second dog went missing, and by Thursday night they were no longer dog owners. I suspected there was a cougar in the area primarily because my dog had been barking her head off for several nights over the past few weeks, and in the direction where the cougars ‘hang out’.

The other behaviour that really solidified the idea was revealed last week while she and I were on our morning walk to the usual spot by the river, where I sit, have my morning coffee and enjoy the view. For the first time on our walks together, she behaved oddly. When we were about half way to the river, she suddenly came barreling back towards me, circled around behind me, sat down at my left hand side facing back from whence she came and began whining earnestly. When I walked forward and urged her to come along, she circled again in front of me, sat down at my left and whined. She made it clear to me that she would not continue on the walk. She has never done this before, so I decided to listen to her and head home. The second I turned back to head home she morphed back into the happy-go-lucky girl she usually is on our walks. That was some time last week. Three mornings ago, she repeated the drama with both my husband and me. I told him that she had done this last week. He agreed that we should listen to her, so we cut the walk short and had coffee on the safety of our porch back at home!

Two days ago, my friend Clarence went to have a look at what remained, if anything, of the neighbours’ dogs. He came by to let me know about the incident; he had ascertained it was definitely a cougar kill. The cougar had killed the first dog and dragged it into the bushes near their house. He found four visible beds around the area where the cat had bedded down to eat, or nap. He described finding the dog half buried in the bushes, “cached under some dirt and leaves, it was.” It had eaten the front half of the dog by the time Clarence found it: “From his rib cage on down to the tail was all that was left of that poor dog. That cougar’s coming back,” he told me. He emphasized that I should be on high alert (as if I am ever not!) and watch my dog carefully: “She wouldn’t last 5 minutes with a cougar.”

Cougar claw, front left paw.

Cougar claw, front left paw.

We arranged to go back the next day so I could get some photos and document this incident. We met yesterday, but the cougar had finished off the rest of the dog during the night. It took the cougar twelve days to eat three huge dogs. Since hunting season for cougar closed at the end of April and doesn’t open again until mid-September, our local hunters could not go after the cougar. Consequently, we had to wait for the Conservation Service.  As luck would have it, we got a new CO about the same day the cougar killed the first dog! How’s that for a welcome to the valley? The Conservation Officer came last night and set a snare for the cougar, and it was caught and killed today. I was invited to take a look. Whew,  now I can relax again for a minute or two! (When I started writing this post, I didn’t know what had transpired today).

Incidentally

I am told this is the 50th cougar killed in the valley since 1999–5 cats per year. There have been 5 killed by Conservation Officers, 2 by automobiles, 1 unknown death (it was found lying dead on a river bank), and the balance (42) by locals. Thirty-one of them were females, seventeen were males and two were unsexed. Some think the high number of females indicates that the Toms are killing the male kittens, and thus we have a higher population of females in the valley, which makes sense from a biological imperative point of view. This latest cougar is the biggest the valley has ever seen; a Tom, he weighed in at 146 pounds (nearly twenty pounds heavier than the last cougar I held!). The CO Service has been kind enough to let someone harvest the meat from the cat so it is not wasted. It will keep the hide and put it into a pool of such skins to be auctioned off  to interested folks like my taxidermist friend. Rumour has it that recent changes of legislation have, or are trying to, put a stop to such an auction, the argument being that wildlife should not be used as a commodity. If this argument carries, then instead of being honored in death the animals will be wasted. I wonder why many people find it acceptable that chickens, pigs, sheep, cows, steers, horses, turkeys, goats, and a host of other ‘domesticated’ animals–and their by-products, like eggs–are used as commodities (often with little regard), but not acceptable that bears, cougars, eagles and so on, are made use of upon their death, after a life of freedom?

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13 Comments

Filed under Animal issues, Bears, Conservation, Cougars

13 responses to “Cougar capers begin again

  1. Kim

    Very Interesting post. So sad that the dogs lives were lost, how devestating.

  2. Sue

    I’m sort of torn on this whole thing-I feel bad for the dogs. I feel bad for the cougars. They are just doing what they do. Are we invading their territory? I live in bear country, though not the scary bears like you would have-just black bear. But, we have to be so careful with things like feeding the birds, compost piles, etc.. If we screw up, the bear pays the price-he becomes a “nuisance” and has to be shot. I really feel bad for the wild animals…their territories are shrinking.
    I admire your lifestyle, but would be too scared to live it myself.

    • Sue,

      Until a few years ago, I used to feel much the way you do! However, then I moved to ‘wild kingdom’ and began providing for myself and my family and learned that we are in direct competition with wildlife for our livelihoods (even those of us so called ‘civilized folks’ who shop at the grocery store are; though many wouldn’t admit it, and they would be wrong). I wrote a post about the theory of ‘their territory’ versus ‘our territory’ that you might be interested in Politicking with Predators. It is a false belief to think we can live ‘in harmony’ with wild animals. Humans, after all, are just another one of Mother Nature’s (or God’s) large predators of the forest and part of the balance of nature–we simply have forgotten this in our quest for modernity.

      You should be aware when you differentiate the Grizzlies from the Blacks the way you do that black bears are responsible for more human deaths than grizzlies by a long shot. Lots of people seem to glorify the grizzly for some reason, and dismiss the blacks as ‘no big deal’. I don’t understand this thinking, especially in light of the statistics. Please rethink this mindset, it could save your life. I have another couple of posts on the dealings we have with such predators if you are interested, Needless Suffering, and Cougar Capers Come to an End. We are not in ‘their territory’ when we are in human settlements, quite the opposite; they have entered ours and we have to begin to think this way again. It is only very recent human history that we have strayed from this thinking and we are the losers, as are the animals, for it. You say that you would be too scared to live the way I do. But you might not if you had the right to defend it and were marking your territory the way humans used to do so (by trapping and shooting the marauders) and the animals re-learned to fear humans. Then, like in the old days, you would have less reason to fear them! Twenty years ago, nobody here feared the cougars because they didn’t come around the way they do now, and when you saw a bear, it took off like a shot. Not to anymore. They are no longer used to us defending our territory so they no longer see us as an equal predator and, thus, they no longer fear us. Last summer a friend of mine had SEVEN grizzlies in his yard in one night. He and another man got out their rifles and fired at them to try to scare them off–it did NOT work. They no longer know what gun-shot means. What is worse, is the black bears are beginning to express predatory behaviour on humans (this has been well documented by various bear behaviour experts based on attacks on humans).

    • Galeandra, NZ

      It seems wrong that naturally predatory animals have to be hunted to death for fulfilling their natures. In effect they are paying the price for human life-style choices. I consider that in an overcrowded world where natural systems are under huge pressure, we should shape our ethical framework to accommodate this. What do you think?

      • I too think we should be shaping our ethical framework to accommodate wildlife. But, I do not think that they should be allowed around human settlements. If they come near human settlements, then they have to be shot. It is a false belief system to believe we can live ‘in harmony’ with these animals. Consider the attitude of the folks in New Zealand towards rabbits and opossums. Now imagine that those critters were actually able to kill you and then think about how badly you’d feel about killing one that had eaten your three dogs–or god forbid, a child. This neighbour who is now dogless has two young children at home. Most of us are consoling ourselves with the fact it was a furry tail that was found in the cougar’s cache and not little legs with patine leather shoes and knee socks.

        If we want to keep wild animals on the planet and not drive them to distinction, then we will have to curb the growth of the human population and limit the growth of our human settlements, period. It is erroneous to think that we should allow these predators near, or into, human settlements. Sadly, I do not see this happening. There are many examples of this over the world (take the African gorillas for example), where we have delineated a space for the animals by international agreement (at least in theory) yet the animals still get killed. Take the Virunga National Park or the Kahuzi Beiga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (home of the Mountain Gorilla) as just two examples. Yes, some are killed by poachers, but a lot of the animals (and I include not only gorillas here) are killed for bush meat to feed desperate people. Or their habitat is chopped down so the people can cook their food or simply boil water to make it safe. We can’t let humans starve and prioritize the animals and call ourselves ethical. You may wish to read Politicking with Predators where I go into more detail about my beliefs.

        Incidentally, what part of NZ are you from?

      • LittleFfarm Dairy

        Galeandra –

        are you saying you think it’s OK for those naturally predatory animals to kill humans, & that they should be left free to do so?

        I disagree that they are ‘paying the price for human lifestyle choices’. We all share the planet & all have a right to territory; & to defend that territory to survive – just as they do, themselves.

        The folks at Howling Duck Ranch live in a far more ethical & honest way than the majority; in that they take direct responsibility for their food. Unfortunately many of those who live in an urban environment are inevitably displaced from the realities of not only food production but also living so close to the natural world – which as you point out, is indeed ‘red in tooth & claw’.

        But surely rather than giving in & moving out these homesteaders should be allowed the right to defend themselves, their livestock & their land, as by taking away that right these predators will only take advantage & increase their own territory?

        And by their predatory nature – & the fact that in ‘shaping our ethical framework’ we allow this to happen – they will of course do what comes naturally & move ever-closer to sources of ‘easy meat’….areas of human habitation.

        I’m sure if people saw a cougar padding down the average suburban street with little Fluffy dangling from its jaws, they’d be clamouring for the ‘ethical balance’ to be radically redressed via both barrels of a shotgun!

  3. Little Ffarm is right – usually the hue and cry to save the predators and let them eat livestock and/or whatever is in their path comes from someone who lives in an area where large predators do not. Just in the last month alone there have been dueling news accounts of wolves eating livestock, and coyotes and cougars eating cats, and dogs. The outcry from the city is let the ranchers suffer the loss, the wolf/cougar needs to eat and kill the coyote or cougar that ate Fluffy and Tuffy. Why is it any less important to lose a lamb, calf or livestock guardian dog, than a housecat or lapdog?

    I have found several caches where the cougars have lunched on our calves. It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, and once witnessed is never forgotten. Especially when you realize by reading the signs that the kill was made 200 yards away, and the 200 pound morsel was dragged over large windfall logs and through brush so thick you can’t see 10 feet in front of you.

    People will be next in higher numbers – Temple Grandin raises a good point when she explains that people now act like prey, riding bicycles and jogging, whereas in earlier times people walked or rode horses and were actually in touch with their surroundings and probably didn’t have an ipod blasting in their ears. Savvy?

    Stay safe HDR!

    • Galeandra, NZ

      I can understand the need for people to protect themseves and their stock and plantings. The question I was raising was really to do with our choices about where and how we live or make our living.

      I am still unconvinced that I have an innate right to hold territory by eliminating animals that would otherwise live there.
      I think this issue is far reaching, and that over the next decades more and more of us will have to sacrifice our choices for the well-being of what’s left of the ‘natural’ environment. What I think I’m arguing for is in fact a kind of withdrawal from previously occupied marginal areas and a restoration of original ecology as far as possible. When I say ‘arguing’ I mean that I’m following my desire for conservation of species to its logical conclusion, trying the idea for size, so to speak.

      I’m a teacher from Taranaki,NZ, on a small block where I still grow some export flowers but have moved to work the other half of the property organically to produce fruit, flowers and vegetables. I live under the shadow of a volcanic mountain, Taranaki, where, I’m sad to say, the sound of the kiwi can no longer be heard calling in he bush. Introduced pest animals like possum and rat have wrecked its habatat and predated its young.

      The evidence for warming is more and more convincing to me, and the impact on plant & animal ecology very disturbing. Economic activity focusing on logging or dairying or other extractive industries has already undermined many fragile systems around the globe and in NZ. I think our modern globalised high- consumption system is indefensible, but I am alarmed that for many of us, escape from the tyranny of that system is pushing us to maintain human presence in remote areas, and perhaps impeding their return to pre-settlement days.

      I know I have no experience of your obviously significant predators, and I intend no criticism of your particular choices: I’m really reacting to my recent reading of many small farm blogs, some from people desiring escape in what might be called ‘survivalist’ modes, which has led to a focus on remote or wilderness areas.

      Cheers,
      Galeandra

      • Hello Galeandra,

        No worries, no offense taken. In fact, I welcome the chance to debate this issue as it is an important one. I too have thought exactly along the lines you have, and in many ways still do. I don’t think a retreat from remote areas is the answer or realistic (and let me qualify where I’m living is, although remote, has been occupied as a human settlement for thousands of years) but what I think you are getting at is that we have to rethink our right to stake claim to any land that is available. I agree wholeheartedly with this! The issue you are raising is a territorial issue and with territory comes the delineation of boundaries and with that, the right/responsibility to defend them. We need to define the human settlements and limit their growth and begin again to defend them from these animals. Animals understand territory well and if we defended our boundaries, they wouldn’t come around. Twenty years ago when I used to come to this town to teach scuba diving, nobody talked about cougars! They simply weren’t hanging around the settlement, period. I used to sleep outside on the ground in the middle of an orchard right next door to this house I now own; that is how concerned we were at the time about bears and cougars at the time. Sadly, I wouldn’t do that now.

        There are several factors that have contributed to these changes in animal behaviour: the laws have changed regarding cougar (there used to be a bounty on them and thus those that came close to human settlements were shot), fewer and fewer people are hunting so the animals are less used to seeing/experiencing ‘dangerous’ humans, and we are no longer allowed to trap and shoot as a prophylactic (so from an animal’s point of view, we are not defending our territory and thus they move in closer). If you own animals, you will know that they need training in order to learn how to behave. We all know poorly behaved dogs who jump up on you, or take food from the table if given the chance. Why would bears, cougars, or foxes be any different? They aren’t. When you look at older books on animal behaviour you will notice that many of these creatures are said to be nocturnal hunters. This behaviour is a remnant of 30,000 years of cohabitating alongside humans who would hunt them for food and trap/shoot/snare or otherwise kill them if they encroached upon their settlements. Thus, they learned to hunt at night when those ‘scary two legged creatures with spears and guns’ slept. This is certainly no longer the case. The fox I’m dealing with shows up in the daytime (of course, he’s out there at night also but my animals are locked up then). Lots of the ‘old timers’ here used to snare the bears and shoot them (and then use the skins and can the meat) and thus they didn’t have problems with them killing their livestock nor were there a dearth of bears, but there was a dearth of habituated bears which is what I’d like to see again!

        Right now there is an article in a Vancouver newspaper railing on about how terrible the people of this valley are that I’m living in because we’ve shot and killed 18 grizzly bears over the past few years. Of course, there is no mention of the fact that most of those bears were ‘garbage’ bears, accustomed to scrounging at the dump. The local gov’t bought electric fencing to keep them out but you can’t just keep a garbage bear out of the dump and not expect it to then go to the closest houses for supplements, which is exactly what happened. People lost livestock and fruit trees to these garbage bears; one fellow lost two roping horses to them before the marauding bears were destroyed. So why is that side of the story not in the paper? Because the so called ‘civilized’ folks who live in cities hold the erroneous fantasy that we can live ‘in harmony’ with wild-life and that we are living in ‘their territory’, and they don’t see the link to their own life-style choices as a factor at play in the big picture. It is much easier to point the finger than turn it on oneself as you are suggesting (isn’t there a Crowded House song that says something to that effect?). Alas, the finger of blame has not yet turned upon itself on the big picture yet.

        Which brings us back to your idea of limiting human settlement. First, we have to agree where the human ‘territory’ is. Then, we have to agree to leave the ‘other’ territory pristine for the animals so they can survive. And no, we should not be able to buy land and build wherever the fancy strikes us. For example, there are homes here that are in the Provincial Park that are 50-60 kilometers from the two town sites in this valley. While some have been grandfathered in from before it was a park, there are a few that have just been (or are in the process of being) built. They are right smack in the middle of prime grizzly bear habitat. Should this have been allowed? No, and I think this is what you are getting at. The only reason they are there is for the natural splendor. These folks are not living self-sufficiently, as some of the ‘survivalists’ might be; they are simply enjoying the view. Never before in human history have we been able to build our homes without regard to the ability of the surrounding geography to provide for us directly. So, now we can inhabit a totally inhospitable place, look at the natural splendor around us, and drive many miles to buy provisions.

        Sadly, I don’t see us humans as changing our ways (which is why I brought up the African scenario earlier). This boundary issue will have to be decided and agreed upon on an international scale for it to work. If we are going to make these changes then we will have to stop our population growth as a species in general and ask our governments to slow or halt altogether immigration. Otherwise, where will these people go? They will keep coming and our human settlements will keep expanding and chewing up the wilderness areas and the animals will be driven to extinction like they have in so many other places in the world.

  4. I loved reading about how your dog communicated with you and likely kept you from harm’s way.

    I read the comments with interest. I live in Florida, where there are plenty of people who devastate the land in order to develop horrid designer communities, as well as a lot of extremist environmentalists who would as soon grant all the land to the animals and ban human existence, even in swampland. Most of the rest of us fall somewhere else in the middle and have had our share of hungry alligators, insects, poisonous snakes, bobcats, and yes even some panthers (there are panther crossing signs for miles on a nearby route to the airport). The alligators will come right to your door, and don’t discriminate among pets, wildlife, and humans too much. I hate indiscriminate development, but also feel that we all need our place here. We’re far more likely to be attacked by one of the human species than any other here, but I maintain we have the right to defend our lives against either…which is an entirely different prospect than any of the other extremes.

  5. I do carry in the woods hereabouts — .357 magnum — as any cougar who is getting long in years and short on eyesight might try me. I know it’s a really rare event, but still. One ate some neighborhood domestic cats and turned over (and RIPPED) our trash can about 12 years ago. Now, I’m told, there’s a new one in the neighborhood. With so many deer, that’s not surprising …

    • Tim

      We don’t have cougars where we I live, just coyotes, if the population is not kept in control they start taking down things other than field mice etc.. First people start missing cats then dogs and eventually live stock. Coexistence is great as long as things stay balanced, if not they must be rebalanced.

  6. Pingback: To stay or not to stay? « Howling Duck Ranch

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