Conservation officers are concerned about public safety following four cougar sightings in Abbotsford since Aug. 3.
Don Stahl, a conservation officers with the B.C. Ministry of Environment, said officials are worried because the cougar (or cougars) has been venturing into residential areas and, in one case, killed several chickens in a backyard coop.
Stahl said the cat has become a threat to human safety, and a trap has been to try to catch it live, after which it will be euthanized.
“We’d rather have a dead cougar on our hands than a dead child,” Stahl said.
Relocating the cougar is not the best option, Stahl said.
He said once a wild animal becomes comfortable around humans and doesn’t see them as a threat, it is at risk to wander into campgrounds or residential areas anywhere.
The first cougar sighting was reported Aug. 3 on Discovery Trail where it joins Whatcom Road.
The next sighting was Aug. 20 on Rathtrevor Court, a cul de sac west of Whatcom Road that backs onto a densely forested area. In that incident, the cougar was seen trying to attack some rabbits in an enclosure on a property.
One of the residents yelled at the cat, and it ran back into the forest.
Then, last Thursday (Sept. 4), the animal ventured onto a large property in the area of Whatcom and Old Yale Road. A man cutting his grass on a ride-on lawnmower locked eyes with the cougar, which then retreated into the nearby forest.
The most recent sighting was yesterday (Sept. 9) in the area of Batt Road and Bakstad Road, located east of Upper Sumas Mountain Road.
Residents of that property, a few days prior, had several chickens killed in their backyard coop. Early last evening, one of the residents spotted the cougar outside of the coop.
The woman and the cat looked at each other before the cougar ran off.
Stahl said it’s likely that the sightings are all of the same cougar, which is described as full-grown and weighing about 100 pounds – about the size of a large dog.
He said conservation officers receive up to 15 reports a year of cougar sightings in Abbotsford, but in most cases, no intervention is required.
But a cougar coming near humans is at risk of attacking, Stahl said.
He recommends that anyone coming across a cougar become aggressive and loud by yelling, screaming and throwing rocks and sticks, They should also maintain eye contact, pick up any small children, and back away slowly.
They should not turn their back to the cougar or run away, as this will trigger the cat’s “predator-prey response.”
“The only thing that runs is food,” Stahl said.
He said in the event of an attack, do everything you can to get away, including using anything you can as a weapon, and do not “play dead.”
Any sighting should immediately be reported to the Ministry of Environment’s Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.
Stahl said a cougar can easily be distinguished from the smaller and harmless bobcat by its tail. A cougar’s tail is about two or three feet long, while a bobcat has a short, stubby tail of about four to six inches.
More tips about cougar safety are available on the Ministry of Environment website at env.gov.bc.ca (click on the “Conservation Officer Service” link).