Safety Guide to Vancouver Island Cougars
Vancouver Island has the largest population of Cougars in the province and perhaps in the world. We are fortunate to share our island with this; one of the most mysterious and elusive of all creatures. The cougars secretive habits, with its astounding predatory abilities is capable of killing a 400 kilogram lb elk, and have resulted in a wealth of misconceptions and irrational fears in relation to the largest of Canada’s wild cats.
Cougars are a vital part of our diverse wildlife landscape. Sighting a cougar should be an exciting and rewarding experience, with both you and the cougar coming away unharmed. However; if you do experience a confrontation with a cougar or feel threatened by one; immediately inform the nearest Conservation Officer.
Actually, most British Columbian’s live all their lives without a glimpse of a cougar, much less a confrontation with one. Conflicts between cougars and humans are extremely rare. In the past 100 years, a total of five people have been killed by cougar attacks in BC, (in comparison, bees kill upwards of three Canadians every year). All but one of these fatal cougar attacks occurred on Vancouver Island. During the same period, there were 29 non-fatal attacks in BC, 20 of which occurred on Vancouver Island. The vast majority of these attacks were on children under the age of 16.
Although a cougar attack is highly unlikely, it always pays to be prepared. Information and awareness are your best defence.
About Vancouver Island Cougars:
- The cougar, also called a mountain lion, panther or puma, is Canada’s largest cat. Cougars have long tails which may be one-third of their total body length
- An adult male cougar weights between 63 and 90 kilograms (140 to 200 lbs) and a female cougar, between 40 and 50 kilograms (90 to 120 lbs).
- The cougar’s primary prey is deer and elk, it will also feed on rabbits, beaver, raccoon, grouse and occasionally livestock.
- Cougars are most active at dusk and dawn, however they will roam and hunt at any time of the day or night in all seasons.
- During late spring and summer, one to two year old cougars become independent of their mother. While attempting to find a home range, these young cougars may roam widely in search of unoccupied territory; this is when cougars are most likely to conflict with humans.
Identifying Cougar Tracks:
Cougars have four toes with three distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Claws are retractable, so they usually do not leave imprints. Generally, cougars are solitary. If tracks show two or more cougars travelling together, it probably indicates a female with kittens. When the cat is walking slowly, the hind feet partially overlap prints of the forefeet. The foot prints are approximately 50 centimetres apart. When walking briskly, the hind feet over-reach the front ones, and the left hind foot print and left front footprint are approximately 66 centimetres apart.
When Living in Cougar Country:
Most conflicts with cougars occur in rural communities, wilderness areas and isolated settlements. Cougars are predators, the top of the food chain and their actions are often unpredictable. We have little understanding about what might trigger an attack, but following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict and prepare you in the unlikely event of an attack.
- Cougars seem to be attracted to children, possibly because their high pitched voices, small size, and erratic movements make it difficult for cougars to identify them as human and not prey.
- Talk to children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar.
- Encourage children to play outdoors in groups and supervise children playing outdoors.
- Dogs make good early warning systems but can be an attraction for a hungry cat.
- Make sure children are close or indoors before dusk and at dawn.
- If there have been cougar sightings, escort children wherever necessary, clear shrubs away from active play areas and install lighting whenever possible.
Your yard and home:
- Do not attract or feed wildlife, especially deer or raccoons. These are natural prey and may attract cougars.
Pets and Cougars:
Roaming pets are easy prey.
- Bring pet in at night. If they must be left out, confine them in a protected kennel with a secure top.
- Do not feed pets outside. This not only attracts young cougars but also many attract the small animals, such as mice and raccoons, that cougars prey upon.
- Place domestic livestock in an enclosed shed or barn at night.
Hiking or working in Cougar Country:
- Hike in groups of two or more. Make enough noise to prevent surprising a cougar.
- Carry a sturdy walking stick to be used as a weapon if necessary.
- Keep children close at hand and under control.
- Watch for cougar tracks and signs. Cougars cover unconsumed portions of their kills with soil and leaf litter. Avoid these food caches.
- Cougar kittens are usually well-hidden. However if you do stumble upon cougar kittens, do not approach or attempt to pick them up. Leave the area immediately, as a female will defend her young.
If you meet a Cougar:
- Never approach a cougar. Although cougars will normally avoid a confrontation, all cougars are unpredictable. Cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous.
- Always give a cougar an avenue of escape.
- Stay calm, talk to the cougar in a confident voice.
- Pick all children up off the ground immediately, children frighten easily and their rapid movements may provoke an attack.
- Do not run. Try to back away from the cougar slowly, sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
- Do not turn your back on the cougar. Face the cat and remain upright.
- Do all you can to enlarge your image, don’t crouch down or try to hide, pick-up sticks or branches and wave them about.
If a Cougar Behaves Aggressively:
- Arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks, and speak loudly and firmly. Convince the cougar that you are a threat, not prey.
- If a cougar attacks, fight back! Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything including rocks, sticks, bare fists and fishing poles.