A family of cougars sighted near Columbia Elementary is causing concern for area residents and parents of children at the school.
Jim Beck, a sergeant with the Conservation Officer Service, said they have been aware of the cougars since the beginning of the year. The family is a mother with three kittens, aged about a year to a year-and-a-half in age.
The cats have been moving around at night, but Beck said there have been a few confirmed daylight sightings recently.
With the cougars becoming braver, Beck said the conservation office felt it was prudent to notify the public. The WildsafeBC website, he said, has a number of precautionary suggestions for cougars and other animals.
“We are hoping we are not going to have to intervene with the cat, because she has been displaying healthy cougar abilities,” said Beck. “She is successfully killing deer and feeding her young. “
Beck said there was an evening encounter with a dog on Jan. 12.
“They didn’t resort to attacking the dog or causing it any harm, which is a good indication they are still targeting the prey they should be targeting. ” said Beck.
The high number of urban deer is what probably attracted the cougar family to the city.
“Urban deer are a lot less aware of their surroundings. There is a lot more noise and vehicles,” said Beck. “It makes it that much easier for a cougar to sneak up an urban deer than a bush deer. It’s a lot quieter and they have to be a lot stealthier.
“I think she is kind of keyed in that these urban deer are easy pickings.”
The cat has made a few deer kills, said Beck. The latest one he’s found was at the top of Penticton’s industrial park, near Ellis Creek.
“She’s been frequenting the area from Ellis Creek over to Penticton Creek. Kind of on the periphery of Penticton,” he said. “She is venturing in a little bit deeper at times.“
Beck said that until the cougar family was spotted moving around in the daytime, they were in the “manage and monitor category.”
“We’ve advised the school board to notify the schools in the area to take precautionary measures,” said Beck. He asks that the public report any sightings of the cougars to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277.
He’s also asking that if the public happens to come across one of the cougar’s deer kills that they also call in.
If the cougars are not feeding on a carcass, they often bury it with snow to save it for later. Beck said the pattern is distinctive, almost perfectly circular around their food cache.
“If the kill is in a location where we can retrieve it, we are going to take it and hopefully get her to move on,” said Beck. “At this stage, we are still monitoring with the hope that she will realize this isn’t a conducive place for her and her offspring. “
The latest sightings, he said, show she is moving in an easterly direction, which is where they want her, moving back to the edge or out of town.
Beck recommends taking precautions, like monitoring your children’s outdoor activity more closely, keeping pets indoors and not leaving pet food out.
Racoons are another prey source, so if you are leaving any food out the raccoons are targeting, you could inadvertently attract a cougar,” said Beck.
The photo accompanying this article was taken by Mike Hanley.