COUGAR ATTACK_ COUGAR ATTACK_

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					                                Cougars have been stalking
                                humans in unprecedented
                                numbers in British Columbia.
                                Why do they prey on us
                                and how can we live safely
                                in their territory?


                                BY TERRY GLAVIN




                                I
                                          t was a perfectly ordinary August afternoon
                                         in 2002 in Port Alice, B.C., when David Parker de-
                                         cided to go for a walk. The 61-year-old retired mill-
                                         maintenance foreman had been working on the roof
                                         of his small house on Marine Drive and had felt a bit
                                         of a cramp in one of his legs. He reckoned a walk
                                         would do him good, so he headed out on a route he
                                was accustomed to taking on his evening strolls.
                                   He strode down a gravel road that connects Port Alice, a
                                pulp-mill village on Vancouver Island’s northwest coast,
                                with the Jeune Landing log-sorting yard on Neroutsos Inlet.
                                About a kilometre and a half from Jeune Landing, it started
                                to rain. Parker had just ducked under a rock ledge at the side
                                of the road to wait out the downpour when he thought he
                                heard a noise behind him and turned to see what it was.
                                   At that very moment, Parker found himself staring into the
                                eyes of a healthy young male Puma concolor, an animal that
                                goes by many names: cougar, mountain lion, puma, panther,
                                catamount, night crier, ghost walker, swamp devil. This one
                                was an arm’s length from his face.


COUGAR ATTACK!
                                   He turned to run. The cougar pounced, and Parker was
                                knocked face down in a ditch. The predator clung to his
                                back, sinking its teeth into his skull. Within seconds, most of
                                Parker’s scalp was torn away. His jaw was broken, his left
                                cheekbone was cracked, and the orbital bones of his left tem-
                                ple were crushed. His right ear was hanging by a thread of skin.
                                   “I remember thinking I’d never see my wife again,” says
                                Parker. “I remember thinking, well, this is where it all ends.”
                                   But then and there, he decided he wasn’t going to die on a
                                rainy afternoon in a shallow ditch beside a dirt road on the out-
                                skirts of Port Alice. While the cougar was tearing at him with
                                its claws and pulling away bits of his scalp, Parker reached for
                                a small pocket knife in a sheath attached to his belt. “You fight
                                back,” he says, “because that’s all there is left to do.”
                                   At the moment Parker reached for his knife, the cougar bit

                                Retired pulp-mill worker David Parker survived a cougar




                 MARINA DODIS
                                attack on a gravel road on northern Vancouver Island.
                                The frequency of such attacks is rising, as human activities
                                increasingly encroach upon cougar habitat.

                                                                    CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC        53
                                                                                      C
                                                                                                      ougar attacks aren’t exactly unheard of in
                                                                                                      Port Alice, a village of about 1,100 people
                                                                                                      nestled against the rain forest south of remote
                                                                                                      Quatsino Sound. House cats routinely fall
                                                                                                      prey to hungry cougars. It’s the same in all
                                                                                      the towns and villages around the sound — Winter Harbour,
                                                                                      Quatsino, Coal Harbour, Holberg. Cougars come with the
                                                                                      country. That’s the way it’s always been. Still, something un-
                                                                                      usual seems to be going on.
                                                                                         In the three years before Parker’s attack, three cougars
                                                                                      were shot within sight of his house. One, spotted in his
                                                                                      driveway, was reported to have been stalking children on their
                                                                                      way to school. Another had attacked a dog on a trail behind
                                                                                      Parker’s place. It, too, was tracked down and killed. The third
                                                                                      cougar was shot after becoming a routine nuisance at Port Al-
                                                                                      ice’s public works yard.
                                                                                         The year before Parker’s grisly encounter, a worker was dri-
                                                                                      ving home from his shift at the Western Pulp mill when he
                                                                                      found a cougar attacking a man in the middle of the road just
                                                                                      outside of town. The man, a tugboat captain from Seattle,
                                                                                      had been riding his bicycle back to his moored boat after din-
                                                                                      ner in Port Alice when the cougar jumped him from behind,
                                                                                      knocking him off his bike. His rescuer had to beat the
                                                                                      cougar about the head, first with his lunch pail, then with the
                                                                                      victim’s bicycle, to get him off the man.
                                                                                         In 1992, a cougar walked onto the playground of an ele-
                                                                                      mentary school at Kyuquot, about 50 kilometres across the
                                                                       MARINA DODIS




                                                                                      mountains from Port Alice, and killed an eight-year-old
                                                                                      boy. Two years later, a seven-year-old boy was walking to
                                                                                      school at Gold River, 120 kilometres southeast of Kyuquot,
Parker used this knife to inflict a mortal wound on the                               when he was attacked by a cougar and dragged into the
cougar as it was biting his head. He advises people in                                bushes. His father arrived on the scene and scared away the
cougar country to “be very, very wary.”                                               animal. Nearby, several months later, a cougar attacked an
                                                                                      RCMP constable on horseback. Then a logger was jumped
his face, causing his right eye to protrude from its socket.                          in Zeballos, and two campers had to use an axe to fight off
Still, he managed to unfold the knife’s eight-centimetre                              an emaciated cougar south of Port Hardy.
blade. He plunged it into the cougar’s neck and, with his                                It all added up to an especially nasty spate of cougar attacks
other hand, held onto the animal. Moments later, the                                  for such a small area. But it wasn’t happening only in and
cougar stopped struggling and gave up its final breath. With                           around Vancouver Island’s northern coastal villages. Attacks
blood streaming from his face and head, Parker stood up and                           have been on the rise throughout the animal’s range: al-
slowly started walking to Jeune Landing.                                              most half of all the attacks recorded in the past century
   “I just put one foot in front of the other,” he says. “I                           have occurred during the past decade.
thought I’d try to get as far as I could before I collapsed.                             In 1991, Paul Beier, a wildlife ecologist at Northern Ari-
That’s all I had on my mind.”                                                         zona University in Flagstaff, published a detailed study of
   At the landing, a worker found Parker staggering down                              cougar attacks in North America over the previous 100 years.
the road. He was rushed south by air ambulance to Victo-                              He had searched newspaper archives, popular magazines and
ria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital, where he spent more than 10                             academic journals and had contacted wildlife agencies in Al-
hours in surgery.                                                                     berta, British Columbia and all 12 western American states.
   Over the next two years, Parker would make more than 30                            He found that more people throughout North America had
visits to doctors and surgeons in Victoria, a seven-hour drive                        been attacked by cougars since 1970 than during the entire
each way. It took 350 staples to secure his scalp back to his skull,                  80-year stretch from 1890 to 1970. Sixty-eight percent of the
                                                                                                                                                          MIKE ANICH/AGE/FIRSTLIGHT.CA




200 stitches to close the gashes on his face and several plates and                   53 confirmed attacks from 1890 to 1990 had occurred after
metal screws to reconstruct his jaw. Then there was the constant                      1970. More people were dying in cougar attacks too. Between
pain, the recurring nightmares and the anger. But nowadays,                           1890 and 1970, there had been only four fatalities. Between
Parker is stoic about it all. He’s back playing old-timers hockey                     1970 and 1990, there were five.
twice a week, and he’s curling again. “I was in the wrong place                          Beier revisited his survey in 2001, and his new findings
at the wrong time,” he says. “That’s about all there was to it.”                      were even more disturbing. Of 98 cougar attacks in North

54   CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC       MAY/JUNE 2004
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Safety in cougar country
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    0       10           20 km
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Qu
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          een
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Ch
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                arl
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ott
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         M     OST PEOPLE WILL NEVER      glimpse a cougar in the wild,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  much less have a confrontation with one. But even though
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         conflicts between cougars and humans are extremely rare, peo-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        e        S tr
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            CAPE SCOTT                                                                  ait              ple who live in or visit cougar country should be prepared. The
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            PROV. PARK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Port Hardy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         following advice from the British Columbia Ministry of Water,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Holberg                       Coal                                  Port            Land and Air Protection will reduce your risk of a cougar attack
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Harbour                                  McNeill
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         and prepare you in the unlikely event one occurs.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Winter Harbour                      Quatsino
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Home and yard: Don’t attract or feed wildlife, especially deer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        S ound
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    sino Jeune Landing                                                   and raccoons. These are natural prey and may attract a hungry
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Q uat                                             NIMPKISH LAKE




                                                                                                                                JAMES GRITZ/FIRSTLIGHT.CA; PREVIOUS PAGES: STEPHEN KRASEMANN/DRK PHOTO
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     PACIFIC                                         Neroutsos                   PROV. PARK              cougar. Consider getting a watchdog, because it can smell, hear
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Inlet
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Port Alice                         and see a cougar sooner than a human can. Dogs don’t deter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            OCEAN
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         cougars, but they may distract one from attacking a human.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   BROOKS              TAHSISH-KWOIS                         Pets: Roaming pets are easy prey. Bring your pets inside at
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  PENINSULA               PROV. PARK
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  PROV. PARK                                             night. If they must be left out, keep them in a kennel with a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Enlarged                                                                                  secure top. Don’t feed pets outside. This attracts young cougars
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Port Hardy               area
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         and many small animals, such as mice and raccoons, upon which
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Kyuquot
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         cougars prey. Keep livestock in a closed shed or barn at night.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Port Alice                                                                                                         Children: Cougars seem to be attracted to children, possibly
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         because their high-pitched voices, small size and erratic move-
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Zeballos                      Campbell River
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         ments make cougars identify them as prey. Encourage children
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    VA
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         N         Gold River                                                            to play outdoors in supervised groups. Fence in play areas.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             CO                         Courtenay
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  UV                                                                     Make sure children return home before dusk and stay in until
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       ER
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Parksville                         after dawn. If there have been cougar sightings, escort children
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         to the school bus stop in the early morning. Clear away any
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Tofino                      I S Port              Nanaimo
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        L A Alberni                                      shrubs from around the bus stop, and have a light installed as a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           ND                                 Mayne I.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Duncan                             general safety precaution.


Vancouver Island has always been a good
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Sidney             Hiking or working in cougar country: Don’t hike alone.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            0   25     50     75 km                           VICTORIA   Make enough noise to prevent surprising a cougar. Carry a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         sturdy walking stick to use as a weapon if necessary. Keep
place for cougars. There are no grizzly bears,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           children close by and under control. Watch for cougar tracks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         and signs. Cougars cover unconsumed portions of their kills

lynx or bobcats.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         with soil and leaf litter. Avoid these food caches. Cougar kittens
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         are usually well hidden, but if you chance upon some, don’t
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         approach them or attempt to pick them up. A female will de-
America from 1890 to 2001, almost half had occurred in the         Instinctive and effective predators, cougars stalk slowly                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             fend her young, so leave the area immediately.
1990s. Seven people had been killed during that decade.            then charge their prey in short high-speed bursts. On                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Encountering a cougar: Even though it normally avoids con-
   Cougar sightings are also rising rapidly, and not just in the   leaving the den, young cougars (PREVIOUS PAGES) become                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                frontations, a cougar is unpredictable. Never approach a cougar.
provinces and states where they’re conventionally seen. They       independent from their mothers and may roam widely in                                                                                                                                                              BRITISH                    C A N A D A                                                                             A cougar feeding on a kill is dangerous. Always give a cougar an
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    COLUMBIA         ALBERTA                                                QUEBEC
are being reported with increasing frequency in parts of           search of unoccupied territory. This is when they are most                                                                                                                                                                                  SASK.         MAN.                                                                        escape route. Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice.




                                                                                                                                                                                                         STEVEN FICK/CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC; SOURCE FOR RANGE: B. C. THOMPSON
Canada and the United States where they were believed to           likely to conflict with humans.                                                                                                                                                                            Vancouver
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Island
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Canmore
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tulameen                                  ONTARIO
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Lake Abitibi    N.B.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                P.E.I.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       N.S.              Lift all children off the ground immediately. Children frighten
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Juniper
have been hunted out generations ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    easily, and their rapid movements may provoke an attack. Don’t


                                                                                                                                                                                                         AND J. A. CHAPMAN (EDS.), WILD MAMMALS OF NORTH AMERICA, 2003
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           WASH.




S
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       OTTAWA
                                                                   Mainly, more people are spending more time in wilderness                                                                                                                                                                ORE.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        MONT.                     Sault Ste. Marie                    Monkland                           run. Try to back away from the cougar slowly. Sudden move-
             o are cougar populations on the rise? Or are we areas than ever before, says Beier, especially in California,                                                                                                                                                                        IDAHO
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            WYO.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         ment or flight may trigger an instinctive attack. Don’t turn your
            just encroaching more on their territory? Beier says Colorado and Washington. Wherever human population                                                                                                                                                                       Sacramento                         U. S. A.                                                                    back on the cougar. Face it, remain upright, and do all you can
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               NEV. UTAH
            we should be very careful not to jump to conclusions growth and the expansion of suburbs encroach upon prime                                                                                                                                                              CALIF.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             COLO.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Denver
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         to enlarge your image. Don’t crouch down or try to hide. Pick
            about what’s happening with North America’s cougar habitat, human-cougar encounters take an upswing.                                                                                                                                                                                        Flagstaff                                                                                        up sticks or branches, and wave them about.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    ARIZ.    N.M.
            cougars. With a creature like this, things are never The 1990s also appear to have been the worst decade in                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If a cougar becomes aggressive: Arm yourself with a large
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             TEXAS
quite what they seem. For instance, the dramatic rise in en- North American history for attacks involving sharks, alliga-                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                stick, throw rocks, and speak loudly and firmly. Convince the
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               FLA.
counters between people and cougars in the western United tors and bears.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                cougar that you are a threat, not prey. If a cougar attacks, fight
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            MEXICO
States is probably not because cougar numbers are increasing,      Nearly half of the attacks Beier documented in North                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Cougar (Puma concolor)                                      back! Many people survive cougar attacks by fighting back with
Beier insists. Some cougar populations may have recovered America from 1890 to 1990 occurred in British Columbia,                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Original range                                           anything at hand, including rocks, sticks, bare fists, pocket
slightly in recent years, but government agencies in many ju- which stands to reason, because the province is about the size                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Current primary range                                    knives and fishing poles.
risdictions are killing as many “problem” cougars every year as of California, Oregon and Washington combined. Mean-
were once killed by bounty collectors and recreational hunters. while, the B.C. government’s own tracking shows 63 cougar

58   CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC     MAY/JUNE 2004
                                                                                                              attacks in the province in the past century, with about half oc-
                                                                                                              curring on Vancouver Island. Eighteen of those 63 attacks took
                                                                                                              place between 1990 and 2001, and half of those were on
                                                                                                              Vancouver Island.
                                                                                                                 The island has always been a good place for cougars.
                                                                                                              Wolves offer some competition, but there are no grizzly




                                                                          A. H. MAYNARD/BC ARCHIVES/G-03184
                                                                                                              bears, lynx or bobcats. Its more than 30,000 square kilo-
                                                                                                              metres are rugged, mountainous, heavily wooded and
                                                                                                              sparsely populated. Some 700,000 people live there, mostly
                                                                                                              in and around Victoria, on the island’s south coast. Cougar
                                                                                                              encounters should come as no surprise — most of the island’s
                                                                                                              fishing villages and sawmill towns are situated adjacent to vast
                                                                                                              cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir forests that have always pro-
 A hunting group proudly displays its quarry near Victoria                                                    vided ideal habitat for coastal blacktail deer and Roosevelt elk,
 in 1920, when cougar bounty programs were in full                                                            two of the cougar’s favourite prey.
 swing across the continent.                                                                                     The increase in cougar attacks on Vancouver Island involves
                                                                                                              factors that run counter to patterns elsewhere in North
 A predator’s natural history                                                                                 America. Outdoor recreation certainly has been on the rise on
                                                                                                              the island, as elsewhere, but something else has been going on,

 T    HE COUGAR BELONGS to an ancient species that was cunning

      enough to survive the post-Pleistocene extinctions some
 9,000 years ago, which carried away other North American carni-
                                                                                                              according to provincial wildlife biologists. Vancouver Island’s
                                                                                                              cougar population has actually been falling in recent years. In
                                                                                                              1995, cougars on the island were believed to number 700 to
 vores, including the entelodont, a gigantic boarlike, rhinoceros-                                            800. By 2001, provincial government biologists estimated that
 eating creature with a metre-long head, and the giant short-faced                                            perhaps half that number remained, mainly due to a collapse
 bear, an animal twice the size of a grizzly.                                                                 in the number of coastal blacktail deer.
    Like all cats large and small, this elusive predator’s remarkable                                            Vancouver Island’s deer population fell from an estimated
 physical features help explain its lethal prowess and thus its long-                                         200,000 animals in 1980 to 55,000 in 2001. The collapse is
 term success. Its padded feet have webbing and hair between the                                              a bit of a mystery, but it appears to be at least partly related
 toes, which it walks on, the stealthiest of hunters. Each toe has a                                          to a rise in the wolf population after the 1970s and to
 compressed, curved, retractable claw, withdrawn when walking                                                 changes in the island’s forest cover.
 but extended when climbing or slashing prey. The cougar also has                                                “What’s been happening is a bigger drop in deer popula-
 large temporalis and masseter muscles in its face and jaw and long                                           tions than people have seen in their lifetimes on Vancouver
 canines, with which it can sever the spinal cord of its prey. Farther                                        Island,” says Doug Janz, a senior provincial fish and wildlife
 back in the mouth are sharp carnassial teeth, enabling it to tear off                                        scientist on the island. “The glory days of deer hunting
 large chunks of flesh, which it swallows whole. It preys mainly on                                            were back in the 1960s and 1970s, and those days are over.”
 deer, elk, moose and woodland caribou.                                                                          Clear-cut tracts, which provided a bonanza of browsing
    Historically, cougars have spread from the Yukon to Tierra del                                            pasture for deer beginning in the 1930s, are now filling in
 Fuego, at Argentina’s southern tip, and from east to west across                                             with dense young stands. Thickets of immature trees and net-
 North America, anywhere deer and elk were available. But the big                                             works of logging roads don’t make great deer habitat and ap-
 cats were hunted relentlessly from the earliest days of European                                             pear to have given cougars a distinct hunting advantage.
 settlement. By the end of the 19th century, they were extirpated                                             The roads create “edge” habitat that, along with the cover of
 from much of the eastern half of the continent. Wherever cougars                                             dense thickets, gives cougars ideal ambush sites.
 remained in the West, bounty hunters pursued them through                                                       The result, says Janz, is a sad but predictable story. When
 most of the next century, exterminating them because they                                                    the deer population falls, young adult cougars move farther
 preyed on game and farm animals and sometimes people.                                                        afield for sufficient prey. They start appearing in more settled
    Cougars were never numerous on the Canadian prairies or the                                               areas, where they get themselves into trouble. They show up
 American plains, but in the Far West, the bounty carnage was                                                 in subdivisions and chicken coops in Parksville and Courte-
                                                                                                                                                                                  PREVIOUS PAGES: RENEE LYNN/PHOTO RESEARCHERS




 astonishing. California paid bounties on 12,452 cougars from                                                 nay. They stalk flocks of sheep in fields around Campbell
 1907 to 1963, an average of 222 a year. Across British Columbia,                                             River and Duncan. And they start wandering through mill
 more than 16,000 cougars were shot for the government bounty                                                 towns such as Port Alice.
 offered between 1910 and 1957, an average of 340 a year. Every                                                  In 1997, Vancouver Island conservation officers shot 50
 province and state now regulates cougar hunting in some way,                                                 cougars, the second highest number of problem cougars killed
 but hunters are no longer the biggest threat: habitat lost to agri-                                          there in a quarter century. That was also the year the greatest
 culture, forestry, mining and settlement has rendered vast regions                                           number of cougars were killed by hunters on Vancouver Island
 uninhabitable, to the point where Vancouver Island has become                                                in a quarter century: 83. Hunting regulations are generally
 the last great redoubt of the cougar in North America.                                                       aimed at curbing the cougar population to give humans a
                                                                   T.G.                                       competitive edge in the hunt for deer and elk but leaving

62   CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC         MAY/JUNE 2004
                                                                                                                                                  DARYL BENSON/MASTERFILE
The normally elusive predators have become
more visible and thus easier prey.
 The eastern enigma
I    N N OVEMBER 1992, two wildlife officers in a forest near
    Juniper, N.B., followed the tracks of what appeared to be a
 cougar, until they lost their quarry. But they did find some scat,
                                                                          from the nearly extinct population of Florida panthers, says Paul
                                                                          Beier, a Northern Arizona University wildcat biologist.
                                                                             The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada
 which they sent to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa               designated the eastern cougar population endangered in 1978. In
 for analysis. The museum’s curator determined that hairs in the          1998, the status was re-examined and designated data-deficient.
 scat were from the legs of a cougar. The previous confirmed               The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources remains equally neutral
 sighting of a cougar in New Brunswick was in 1841. In May                on the question of Ontario’s cougars, but the recently established
 1992, a young male cougar was shot and killed near Lake Abitibi          Ontario Puma Foundation (which prefers the taxonomically correct
 in Quebec, the first confirmation of a cougar in the province              term) has no doubts at all that the cats are out there. The founda-
 since the 1860s. The last cougar in Ontario was said to have             tion was established in 2002 to investigate the growing number of
 been killed by a T. W. White of Creemore, Ont., in January 1884.         cougar sightings in Ontario and obtain the most accurate evidence
 But there’s no use telling that to David Wood of Monkland, Ont.,         of cougars in the province.
 near Cornwall. Wood swears that he was attacked by a cougar in              “We have [recorded sightings, scat, tracks or vocalizations of]
 his backyard in August 2001 and that he saw the cat again in the         108 animals between Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa,” says founda-
 same place the next day.                                                 tion president Stuart Kenn. “There are about 300 animals in On-
      Cougar sightings are now commonplace in Eastern Canada. But         tario.” Such a precise statement about cougar numbers is based
 it is unlikely that a relict population of the once abundant eastern     on the foundation’s analysis of sightings, habitat, prey abundance
 cougar (Puma concolor couguar), long considered a distinct sub-          and human settlement densities in the province. “The next step,”
 species, is re-establishing itself. Today’s eastern cougars are proba-   says Kenn, “is to preserve key corridors and areas that are impera-
 bly escaped captives or their offspring and individuals straying         tive to the rehabilitation of the puma.”
 from populations in Western Canada and Texas and perhaps even                                                                             T.G.


64       CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC     MAY/JUNE 2004
                                                                                                                                        STEPHEN KRASEMANN/DRK PHOTO
enough game animals for cougars too. Sport hunting for              A cougar can cover a distance of up to six metres in one
cougars in British Columbia is a tradition as old as the            leap. Weighing as much as 100 kilograms and reaching
province, but government wildlife officials have lately recog-      2.7 metres in length, a third of which is tail, the cat can kill
nized that hunting is taking a toll. These days, just when the      prey twice its weight by snapping the animal’s neck with its
cougar population can least sustain itself, the normally elusive    strong jaws and sinking its four-centimetre fangs into the
predators have become more visible and thus easier prey.            spine. Its abrasive tongue helps strip meat from the bones.




T
                                                                    cougar-control strategies or cougar-population trends or even
                 hese grim trends are reflected in how a             cougar behaviour. It’s about human behaviour. Subdivisions
                day’s work has changed for Gerry Brunham, a         get built beside thick stands of old-growth cedar. Jogging trails
                seasoned conservation officer with decades of        are punched through high mountain forests. We start to
                experience dealing with problem cougars,            imagine that wilderness exists just for us. Then we find our-
                mostly on Vancouver Island. Of the roughly          selves face to face with cougars. What do we do then?
400 cougar complaints he has responded to in his 32 years              Brunham says the question is largely academic: “Most
of service, 340 of them have been lodged since 1990.                people attacked by cougars never even saw it coming.” But
    Usually, people don’t want to see a cougar shot, says           he does have some advice, based on his own years of expe-
Brunham. Even when a cougar ends up in a residential area,          rience, and it is the same advice offered by wildlife biologists
most people want it anaesthetized and relocated. But that’s         who have conducted in-depth studies of human-cougar en-
rarely the wisest or kindest thing to do. “We know now, af-         counters throughout North America. Don’t turn away from
ter all these years, that relocation is usually not a viable op-    the animal. Don’t run. Make yourself look big. Shout. Bark.
tion,” he says. “It doesn’t really work.”                           Growl. Act like a big, mean predator. Do not play dead. It
    It’s one thing if it’s just a matter of a young cougar that     does not work with cougars. And if the cat attacks, Brunham
has found itself in the wrong place at the wrong time. But          says, fight back, just as David Parker did.
if it’s a hungry young cougar and there’s really nowhere for           That is Parker’s advice too.
it to go, shooting the animal can be the merciful thing to do.         “I’m a survivor,” he says. “And I can tell you, you have to
The important thing is to be able to distinguish between the        be very, very wary of these animals.”
two circumstances.
    “Cougars live among us, and most of them, most of the time,
don’t cause anybody any problems. A cougar walking through          Terry Glavin is a writer based on Mayne Island, B.C.
a subdivision near a forest, that’s not a problem,” says Brunham.
“A cougar that jumps through your front window, going after         To comment on this article, please e-mail editor@canadian
your cat — that’s a problem.”                                       geographic.ca. For exclusive web material related to this story,
    But there comes a point when the problem isn’t about            please visit www.canadiangeographic.ca/indepth.


66   CANADIAN GEOGRAPHIC      MAY/JUNE 2004

				
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