Englishman River Falls Provincial Park is closed until Friday at the earliest after three cougar encounters Conservation Officer Steve Ackles called “highly unusual.”
“It’s more of a precaution,” said Ackles of the park closure which began the morning of Sunday, Dec. 21.
According to Ackles, the first sighting was reported Dec. 17 at approximately 1:30 p.m.
“A resident was out walking his dog when he noticed he was being followed by a cougar,” he said. “The cougar followed him across the lower bridge, and when he went into the outhouse the cougar circled it once, maybe twice and then moved on.”
The second encounter was reported approximately an hour later, said Ackles.
“Two individuals were walking a dog and had an encounter with a cougar on the other side of the park,” he explained. “The individuals said the cougar’s primary focus was on their dogs.”
On Dec. 20 at approximately 3:15 p.m., Ackles said he received another report, this time from a mountain biker riding the Hammerfest trails with his dog, located just 400 metres from Englishman River Falls Park.
“The biker described a similar experience, saying the cougar was more focused on his dog,” said Ackles. “More than likely, it was the same cougar in all three instances.”
Although Ackles maintains the cougar showed no aggression towards the people, he said the animal’s behavior was still atypical.
“Following people for long periods of time despite their yelling and waving their hands is unusual behavior for a cougar,” he said.
The entrance gate to the park is now closed and the area is taped off. A handwritten sign reads, “Park closed, conservation officers active in park. No people. No dogs.”
Conservation Officers have set up a live trap in the park, and plan on setting up at least one more.
However, due to the changing weather conditions Ackles said it has been difficult tracking down the cougar.
When the snow melts it takes the cougars tracks and scent with it, he said.
Englishman River Falls is slated to re open Dec. 27 if there are no further cougar sightings.
Ackles reminds the public to practice proper behavior on the chance that they come across a cougar.
“Do not ever turn your back to a cougar,” he said. “Look it in the eye and back away.”
Ackles asks anyone who has an unusual encounter with a cougar that threatens public safety to contact the 24-hour report line at 1-877-952-7277 immediately.
For more information on how to prepare for encounters with cougars visit http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/index.htm#.