From Courtenay to Cumberland, cougars have been spotted on the prowl, prompting warnings from conservation officers to keep an extra close eye when outside.
Last week, reports of cougar sightings were recorded in various locations in Cumberland near the Trent River Main, behind Jumbo’s Cabin and Perseverance Creek, and in the area between Whites Bay and the chlorine shack.
In Courtenay, a cougar has been spotted in the west area of the city off Lake Trail Road.
Conservation Officer Gord Gudbranson said he received reports of an aggressive cougar on the bike trails in Cumberland last week which made a group of riders dismount in order to appear larger to scare the cat away.
“It was displaying moderately aggressive threatening behaviour,” he explained, and added officers searched for the animal using cougar-tracking dogs.
Gudbranson noted the level of food sources could be a reason behind the increased sightings, with rabbits, deer and the swamp nearby the trails.
Mike Jones, who was visiting Cumberland from Squamish, told media he came across a cat Thursday morning when heading out for a ride on his mountain bike.
“(I was heading) towards the chlorine shack and I looked down the road and I saw this large beast with maybe a five-foot thick tail … and it kind of looked over its shoulders and saw me and went into the bushes, and off I went the other way right back to the bike shop.”
Jones explained although he’s lived in Squamish for some time, he has never encountered a cougar.
“I’ve been mountain biking for about 25 years. So seeing one today was a bit spooky and I decided it wasn’t worth it going out there by myself.”
Jones said the fact the cougar was allowing itself to be seen in populated areas was enough to spook him, and he retuned to join other bikers to head out to the trails together.
Gudbranson noted if the aggressive cougar is found, officers would not be able to relocate the animal due to the active aggressive behaviour displayed towards people.
“It’s always a balance that you have to consider the risk to public safety,” he explained. “When (cougars) are past that point in their behaviour, it’s not acceptable.”
He said anyone planning to use the trails or spend time outdoors be familiar with knowledge of what to do if they encounter a cougar. He suggests making noise, and if approached by a cougar, to maintain eye contact, stand square to the animal, pick up small pets and children, try to appear larger and never turn away or run. If the animal begins to display aggressive behaviour, throw rocks or sticks.
He said signs have been placed at certain trailheads warning of potential cougars in the area, and encourages anyone who spots a cougar to call conservation at 1-877-952-7277, as calls will aid with patrols of the area.