Cougars have been sighted from Nanoose to Ladysmith in recent weeks, but overall numbers of sightings are down from last year.
The cats have been spotted near Colliery Dam Park, Witchcraft Lake, Doumont recreation area, Harewood, Cedar, Yellow Point and Ladysmith. One was even spotted near Frank J. Ney Elementary School on Wednesday.
Stuart Bates, conservation officer, said cougar sighting numbers always spike in the summer when there are more daylight hours and simply more opportunity to spot the animals.
“When it’s hotter, like it has been earlier in the summer, the cougars aren’t as successful hunting because they’re noisy and when they do kill something it goes rotten so they have to go kill something else, so they’re simply hunting more – and with the nice weather there’s more people out,” Bates said.
This year there have been 43 reported cougar sightings in Nanaimo, six in Nanoose, five in Ladysmith and one in Cedar. The total number of sightings for the region last year was 118. Linley Valley, Buttertubs Marsh, Witchcraft Lake and Doumont have among the highest sighting rates, but only a few cats live in and around Nanaimo.
Bates estimates maybe two cougars live at any one time in Linley Valley, one or two in the Nanoose and Doumont areas, another two in south Nanaimo and one or two in each of Cedar and Yellow Point. The cats’ range and numbers depend on the amount of prey – mostly rabbits and raccoons – in their areas.
When a cougar goes after livestock or shows aggression toward humans, the conservation officer has to destroy them.
“I removed one cougar from Nanoose for killing livestock [early 2016] and I removed one in Ladysmith … It was sighted in a backyard and when I showed up it was still there and it looked at me like I was a pork chop,” Bates said. “It literally hunched down and started looking at me like it was gonna pounce and it was less than 20 feet away. At that point I really had no choice.”
He said cougar and bear attacks on humans are extremely rare, but residents should never feed rabbits, raccoons or deer that can attract cougars.
Always keep dogs on leash when hiking in the woods and if a cougar is encountered, don’t scream and never run because doing either can trigger a cougar to attack. Instead make yourself look big, stare the cat in the eyes and slowly back away in the direction you came from.
“Don’t be fearful. Be vigilant,” Bates said.