It’s a good thing Rob Adams knows a thing or two about cougar behavior, because the manager of the Park Sands Beach Resort on Parksville Bay had to act quickly when a cougar decided to pay a visit to the full campsite over the busy Labour Day weekend.
Conservation officers with the help from members of the Oceanside RCMP shot the cougar in an effort to keep the public safe but the big cat had campers on high alert for several hours before it was put down.
Adams said some campers reported seeing the cougar in the campground around 6 a.m. Saturday, September 3 and left a phone message at the office which was closed at the time.
He said when he got word of the sighting he immediately called the central dispatch to report it and then he advised everyone to get their kids into their trailers.
He said he has spent a lot of time in the woods and is familiar with cougar etiquette so he quickly got to work notifying the campers about what not to do.
“We printed up a cougar alert and distributed it throughout the campsite,” he said.
Adams said they thought the cougar had left because it was seen heading in the direction of the Englishmen River but a few hours later it returned.
“I saw it when it was trying to get away. It took off running towards the highway,” he recalled.
He said they made another call to the conservation officer who was already in the vicinity and he arrived within five minutes. He said during that time many of the curious campers were getting very close to the bush where the cougar was hiding trying to get pictures.
“It was difficult to get people away from the area,” he said. “I told them to get away because all it takes is one swipe and you will be hurt.”
He said once the RCMP and the conservation officer arrived the onlookers backed away to a reasonable distance and the authorities did what they had to do.
He said in all his years working at the campsite he has never experienced anything quite like this.
“In 21 years managing this site I have never seen a cougar in the campground.”
He said people were curious and wanted pictures but in the end it was very sad because the cat had to be put down.
“People felt sad because the cat had no intent of hurting anyone. It was just trying to get away but was trapped and had nowhere to go.”
Conservation Officer Steve Ackles admits it was unfortunate they had to shoot the cat but because of the threat to public safety they had no choice.
“Our number one job is public safety and on a long weekend with thousands of people on the beach and the proximity to the campground there was too much of a public safety threat,” said Ackles.
He said the two-year-old male cat had been spotted earlier that morning near the Parksville Chevron at the junction of Highway 19-A and Alberni Highway.
When authorities arrived on the scene they shut down the Highway 19-A for 45 minutes before the area was deemed safe. Ackles said if they could have tranquilized the cougar they would have but because they couldn’t imobilize it safely they had no choice but to shoot it.
He said unlike bears who will stay up a tree after they have been tranquilized, a cougar is more likely to take off.
“Once the dart hits we don’t know how it will react and it just makes a bad situation worse,” he said.
He adds that if the cougar had been in a contained area they may have been able to immobilize it safely but in this scenario that just wasn’t the case.
“I think it found itself in the wrong place and just tried to hunker down in the wrong area.”
Ackles said he is not sure why there have been up to three cougars spotted in populated areas on Vancouver Island recently, but admits this time of year there are more sightings because of a number of different factors.
He said the big cats are definitely hunting more because of the recent warm weather.
That’s because the meat from the prey they take down spoils more quickly and a cougar will then move onto new prey for fresh kill.
He says when these types of animals wind up in populated areas it raises a threat to public safety and there are strategies people should learn if confronted by a wild animal. First and foremost you should never approach wild animals. That great photo you desire could put you in extreme danger.
He says with both bears and cougars never turn your back and run away. He says you need to make it look like you are the predator by making loud noises and standing tall. He says with a cougar you have to be the brave one even though your knees may be shaking.
“It’s like 2 boxers facing off, look the cougar directly in the eyes and back away slowly,” he advises. He adds that if there are children around make sure the adults keep the kids in the middle of a circle and back away slowly together.
For bears he says you have to look at the whole bear and back away slowly. He says there is no point trying to make a run for it because you will never out run these types of animals. He urges people to go to their website at www.env.gov.bc.ca to learn more or call 1-877-952-7277.