Vernon and North Okanagan News
Two cougars shot, one on the loose
After BC Conservation received four to five calls about this particular cougar Sunday morning, it was Kahla Kjarsgaard who caught the elusive cat on film.
She was waiting outside in her car at the end of Kirkland Drive in Coldstream when the cougar started walking down the park towards the building.
“I was sitting in my car chatting with my husband and it just came sauntering down along the fence, says Kjarsgaard.
She then saw her father-in-law walk out of his apartment, “I was sitting in my car pointing at the cougar and trying to yell at my father-in-law to get back inside because the cougar was now in the parking lot.”
“I was yelling get in your truck, get in your truck, and the he saw it, sort of froze and then ran back inside to warn his wife,” shares Kjarsgaard.
The cougar did head back around to the other side of the fence and back in the direction it came from. A path that leads directly to the local elementary school that was fortunately empty on Sunday.
“My father-in-law hollered at him a little bit and it really didn’t seem to care at all.”
Kjarsgaard grew up in Lumby and has seen several cougars in her life, but never expected it to be right in a residential neighbourhood.
“It was just walking up the street, it looked pretty out of place. My heart was racing, he woke me up for sure,” adds Kjarsgaard.
Conservation Officer for the Greater Vernon Area Ken Owens has been on the case for all of the cougar sightings in the area.
Due to the proximity to the local elementary school Owens spent his morning reminding the kids at the school what to do to stay safe around cougars.
“We say to them, what a rewarding experience to see a cougar in its habitat, but when you see a cougar, remain calm, cool, collected. Space and distance is really important, back up and give them that space and then generally good things happen and then it’s a moment you’ll cherish for the rest of your life,” shares Owens.
He explains that unfortunately in all three cases the cougars have threatened, attacked or successfully killed pets and livestock, which means they have to be put down for safety reasons.
“When a cougar breaks the lines of attempting to kill and successfully killing pets and livestock we have to euthanize them,” explains Owens.
“Our cougar population in BC is very healthy and therefore relocation does not work. Cougars are very territorial so trying to move this cougar to an area where another cougar has already set up its home range will make it so that that animal has to fight to survive and then it often ends up coming back to where they were trapped in the first place.”
This latest cougar issue is right on the heels of another one on Saturday in Lavington where a woman was forced to shoot a cougar attacking her dog on her porch. The same cougar that had killed her neighbours goats the night before.
Just five days before that another cougar was put down in Coldstream after trying to kill a dog in a local backyard.
“You have to remember pets and livestock are similarly shaped, sized and smell of a cougar's natural prey and lack the wild instincts of natural prey and therefore are an easy target,” explains Owens.
Conservation also believes its not just a random coincidence. Neighbours in this area of Coldstream are infamous for feeding deer in their backyard, including this past summer's ‘friendly deer’ that was eventually put down.
“People are feeding deer in their backyard because they like to see them, but that brings deer down into their backyards and with the deer it brings cougars down into their backyards because deer are cougars primary food source,” explains Owens.
“We are actually working with the community here to prohibit people from feeding deer, it is just common sense, it will protect the wildlife and it is going to protect the people.”
As to why the cougars can’t be relocated, Owens says it just doesn’t work.
“Our job is to protect people, pets and livestock and if the science supported it we would relocate them, but it doesn’t and this is what we know.”
In general the response Conservation BC gets when they decide to euthanize an animals is far from friendly. The officers are often attacked as monsters, heartless, and animal haters… something that truly hurts Officer Owens.
“You know that is a difficult one for me because you know, us as conservation officers, we get into this job to protect the wildlife and as well to protect people and their pets and livestock and we are doing everything we can,” he said tearing up.
“Every time we have to make the decision to put down a bear or a cougar or a deer it is an incredibly hard decision. We do this job because we love animals,”
It seems the public doesn’t necessarily feel they need protecting though, in a recent Castanet poll 82.3 per cent of 600 voters said they feel safe around predators such as coyotes or cougars.
In BC over the last 100 years Owens says we have only had eight human fatalities and on average one injury a year from cougar attacks, but the same is not true for our pets and livestock and they do need protecting.
Owens believes that those who attack his work may feel differently in the future if it is there beloved pet dog being threatened in its own backyard, something he wants to prevent.
“You know a lot of people want to dictate how we do our job, but we know how to do our job and we do it in support of the Wildlife Branch . . . because we know animal behaviour.”
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