Cougar in B.C. (Contributed)

Cougar in B.C. (Contributed)

Five dangerous animals found in the Okanagan

The list takes focuses on facts and safety measures

  • May. 19, 2020 12:00 a.m.

The Okanagan is known for its vast beautiful landscape and its vast array of wildlife, although the animals that inhabit the valley are not all friendly to humans.

As the weather warms up and people spend more time outside, it is important to understand what dangers you could face in the wilderness.

From sharp teeth to big antlers to long claws, Capital News takes a look at five dangerous animals to call the Okanagan home — and what you should do if you see one out in the bush.

All information below was provided by WildSafeBC.

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Moose

Moose are the largest members of the deer family as well as the tallest land mammals in North America. Except for coastal areas, they can be found throughout B.C. in many habitats including wetlands, forests and willow thickets.

As herbivores, moose feed upon a wide variety of vegetation including the twigs, buds and leaves of shrubs and trees, as well as terrestrial and aquatic plants. Typically an animal of true wilderness, moose may move into urban settings to feed on backyard vegetation in times of scarce natural food or winter months.

Attacks on humans by moose are rare but can occur, especially when a female is protecting her offspring. Vehicle collisions are also a major safety concern associated with moose. Never approach a moose. Give the animals a wide berth and ensure they always have an escape route. Female moose with calves need extra space. Moose cows are very protective of their young and may attack if they perceive a threat. If you come across a cow and calf, calmly leave the area immediately.

Cougar

The cougar is the largest of the three wild cats in Canada and is a formidable hunter. A large male cougar can weigh over 100 kg but is likely to be in the 60-80 kg range. Typically females are about 25 per cent smaller than males.

These cats are light brown in colour and are quickly identified by their compact head and large heavy tail which has a black tip. Cougar tracks are large padded prints with no claws showing. Like domestic cats, cougars keep their claws retracted until needed for attacking their prey or climbing trees.

Attacks by cougars are rare but can be fatal, especially if young children are involved. Cougars in conflict are usually young cougars that have not yet learned how to hunt efficiently and are looking for an easy target, or are older cougars that can no longer hunt efficiently in the wilds.

If you encounter a cougar, keep calm. Make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the cougar. Pick up children and small pets immediately. Never run or turn your back- sudden movements may provoke an attack.

If you notice that a cougar that is watching you, maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak to it in a loud firm voice. Reinforce the fact that you are a human and not an easy target. Back out of the area and seek assistance or shelter.

Black Bear

BC boasts one of the highest populations of black bears in the world with their numbers being somewhere between 120 and 150 thousand animals. Pretty much all of BC is considered “bear country” with bears inhabiting everything from the coastal forests, through to the interior grasslands. From north to south and east to west in this province you’ll have a chance to see black bears.

You’re not likely to run into a grizzly bear in the Okanagan, but you may encounter a black bear. Since we typically locate our homes, city, ranches and farms in prime bear habitat, it stands to reason that there will be an opportunity for conflict with these animals. Calls to the Conservation Officer Reporting Line regarding bear conflicts and bear sightings can number anywhere from 14,000 to 25,000 calls in a year.

Reducing conflict with bears is extensive. To learn more about how to best protect yourself from bear encounters, visit this link.

Wolf

The wolf (canis lupus) also known as the grey wolf, western wolf, and northern grey in B.C., is the largest of the North American canines. It is estimated that there are approximately 8,500 wolves in B.C.

Wolves are closely related to coyotes and domestic dogs but have noticeable differences. Wolves are larger than coyotes and have a broader snout and rounded ear tips. While running, wolves tend to carry their tails out behind them, unlike coyotes that will carry their tails downwards.

Wolves can have a variety of coat colours including black, mottle grey, brown and white. The black coat colour is a result of wolves interbreeding with dogs over 45,000 years ago.

Wolf attacks on humans are very rare but attacks on dogs are quite common. Therefore, it is important to remember that while you are in wolf-country you should always have your dog on a leash, to ensure that your dog does not wander and become a threat or food source for wolves nearby.

If you encounter a wolf and it is showing signs of aggression, you can use bear spray as a deterrent much as you would with a bear or cougar. If you are without bear spray and a wolf begins to approach you, be assertive with the animal by throwing rocks, yelling, making yourself appear large and threatening. It is important that you never play dead with a wolf.

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes can grow to just over one meter in length and can weigh up to about 900 grams. They range in colour from olive-green to tan, with dark blotches along their backs. The blotches turn into alternating dark and light bands near their tail, which ends in a rattle in adults.

Rattlesnakes in BC are found in the province’s dry south-central interior valleys. They live in a variety of habitats, from open forests to riparian areas. Often you will find them among sagebrush and antelope brush in shrub-steppe habitat. They overwinter in communal dens (often with other snake species) found in talus slopes and rock slides, which are usually south-west facing.

Rattlesnake bites are very rare in British Columbia and are almost never fatal. Most snake bites are due to people deliberately trying to handle or harm rattlesnakes. The most important thing to remember is to get the victim to the hospital.

If you are bitten:

1. Stay calm and remove yourself from the area. Move slowly or be carried.

2. Remove any constrictive clothing or jewelry, which otherwise would act as a tourniquet and concentrate the venom and prevent fresh blood from entering the area (which is not desirable).

3. Go to the nearest hospital. Phone ahead if possible, or phone 911. Preferably, have someone else drive you.

4. Mark swelling with lines and times every 10 minutes or so. This will help doctors assess the severity of the bite.

5. If necessary, you may clean the bite area to prevent further infection.

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