Cougar date you don't want

There have been numerous cougar sightings in the Okanagan recently, and some people are literally, if unintentionally, enticing the big cats into their yards.

Conservation officer Micah Kneller says people sometimes feed deer in their backyards or leave birdseed or pet food out, which can attract raccoons – both of which are popular meals for cougars.

“It attracts them, and they are coming right in there and killing the racoons,” he said. “It's the same thing with deer. People need to know if they are feeding deer, they are also attracting cougars which are following the deer.”

Kneller said that not only puts the homeowner at risk, but neighbours as well.

“This is a community issue, and community members need to do their part to solve it,” he said. “The solution isn't for us to just show up and kill the cougar. Sometimes, that is necessary, but it is a last resort. People are training these cougars to come around their property to hunt wildlife.”

The food source will also attract coyotes and other predators to an area.

Kneller says there have been reports of dogs coming in contact with cougars, but in those instances the dogs actually went after the cougar, prompting the cat to defend itself.

A month ago, a cougar did kill a dog in the Cherryville area, and conservation officers put the animal down.

“It wasn't an attack on the dog, it was a defensive thing,” he said. “The cougars are among where people live, and there is going to be interaction with dogs.”

Kneller said they receive calls daily about cougars, but he thinks some of the concerns are being stoked by social media posts.

If someone does spot a cougar near a residential area, they should call the RAPP line immediately at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).

“Especially if they occur during daylight hours or there is stalking behaviour on pets and livestock,” he said.

Kneller urges people to call right away as that will give officials a better idea of where the cats are, but does not mean they will destroy the animal.

Often cougars are spotted simply walking through an area, but if they are acting aggressively, action will be taken.

Kneller said cougars cannot be relocated for several reasons: they have specific home ranges, and if a foreign cougar is introduced to another cougar's territory, it will be attacked; the transplanted cougar will also be unfamiliar with the area and will have trouble finding food, and often the big cats will simply turn to killing farm animals to survive.

He recommends putting livestock in a barn or shed at night – to save not only the farm animals, but the cougar as well.

“A cougar will never break into a shed or a barn to get to these animals,” he said. “They need to be put away at night to remove the attractant (so) we don't have to kill these cougars.”

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