Cougars causing problems

The local Conservation Officer Service has received an unusually high number of complaints in the past few weeks of cougars killing dogs and cats in the Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake areas.

Area conservation officer Cam Hill with a Cougar he was forced to remove from the Fraser Lake area.

Area conservation officer Cam Hill with a Cougar he was forced to remove from the Fraser Lake area.

The local Conservation Officer Service has received an unusually high number of complaints in the past few weeks of cougars killing dogs and cats in the Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake areas.

Area Conservation Officer Cam Hill has had to kill four cougars in the last two weeks, an extremely rare occurrence.

“It’s very unusual … I’ve only ever killed two others in my career here,” said Hill.

Hill says the winter’s deep snow pack may partially contribute to the increase in complaints, at the cats are prevented from hunting their normal prey, such as deer.

On the north shore of Fraser Lake, cougars have killed at least six dogs and injured many more in recent weeks. Two adult cougars were seen hunting together in the residential areas of Oona and Peterson Roads, going on to peoples decks and killing animals right next to houses.

“I’ve got one house where there was blood actually on the side of the house,” said Hill.

Hill says that this behaviour is unusual, even for deep snow years.

He added that although the hills along the north shore are good mule deer winter range, the cats seem more interested in killing pets.

“The ones out at Fraser Lake – they have been killing dogs for a long time … there’s a real history of cougars killing dogs out there and I think these cats just developed a propensity for dogs and they just got bolder and bolder and then with the deep snow they just found it much easier going into yards and hunting dogs and cats,” he said.

Due to the fact that the two adults were hunting together, Hill felt it was necessary to remove one or both of the cougars in the interest of public safety. So on January 14, he enlisted the help of a contract houndsman from West Bank with four hounds in attempt to tree the cougars so that they could be killed.

The hounds chased the cougars all day, before the cougars turned on the dogs, killing two and injuring a third.

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“The hounds have GPS collars so we were able to track them all day,” said Hill.

“A number of times throughout the day we saw that the dogs were stationary so we though they had treed the cats, but when we got there they were always gone again,” he said.

With hindsight he says that the animals were probably having a number of stand-offs and by the end of the day the cougars would have been very cranky and the dogs were tired out, so the cats turned on the dogs.

The houndsman from West Bank said it was rare to lose a hound on a cougar chase, and he had only ever lost one before in his career.

The next day, Hill set up a live trap in the area and was able to catch a large adult male cougar which was killed.

Conservation Officers are continuing to keep a close eye on the area and are monitoring the activities of the second cougar.

Last Wednesday, Hill was informed of three cougars prowling a subdivision on Sinkut Lake, just east of Vanderhoof.

Hill went to the area and supervised six children coming of the school bus there. Moments later, after following tracks in the snow, he found three cougars, one mother and two juveniles, hiding under a shed just 50 metres away from where the kids has been dropped off.

Hill killed the two juveniles as he was sure the female would be able to fend for her self more easily without her offspring and she would therefore leave the area. However the next day, Hill received a complaint that she was still in the area.

After searching the area, Hill located the female hiding under another shed and euthanized her. After a thorough examination of the cat, she was found to be in very bad shape.

“She had a recent foot injury which likely made it very difficult for her to get around in the deep snow let alone hunt,” said Hill.

Hill added that although cougar attacks on humans are very rare, a cougar in this condition would be a perfect candidate for such a rare occurence as she was desperately frail and hungry.

Hill is very thankful that local residents alerted him to the presence of the cats.

Cougars are generally solitary animals. It is unusual to see them in groups except when mating or in the case of females with young. They are also very secretive, largely nocturnal and generally avoid populated areas. Their natural diet in this area consists largely of deer and small game. Hill sees the presence of cougars for extended periods in close proximity to houses and human activity as cause for concern. It is not unusual for the big cats to pass through a residential area and possibly make an opportunistic kill on a pet or livestock however when the cats become bold enough to search in yards and take cover under buildings a response becomes necessary.

If you come into close quarters with a cougar, Hill says the best thing to do is stand your ground, don’t turn and run. Maintain eye contact with the cougar and make yourself look as large as possible. Speak in a confident tone and don’t make any high pitched noises, and back out of the area.

Conservation Officer Hill would like to remind people to report any unusual cougar sightings to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.

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