With spring comes an increase in bear and cougar encounters, but conservation officers warn it is up to humans to give them space.
“If people are out walking their dog in cougar country and see a cougar, we may not respond,” said conservation officer Steve Ackles of a recent cougar sighting near the Qualicum Beach fish hatchery.
He said that while there have been recent sightings in the wilderness around Qualicum Beach and Bowser, there haven’t been any reports of aggressive cougars or confirmed attacks on pets this year.
He said cougars pass through at any time and sightings are common at this time of the year. When he walked around where one had been seen he came across sleeping deer — a perfect attraction for the large predators.
They did have to kill a questionable bear in Errington recently that was killing domestic sheep in the middle of the day.
Ackles said other than that, recent bear sightings have been routine as we head into the busiest time for human-bear interactions — from mid-May into June, following mating season.
“People really have to be diligent about managing their attractants,” he said of the need to keep things like garbage, compost, bird feeders, pet food, fruit trees and barbecues as odourless and secure as possible.
Ackles cautions that as long as people are animal smart they can safely enjoy nature.
“Really, there are very few cougar related injuries in the mid-Island.”
If you see a cougar be as big and loud as possible, wave sticks or throw things to scare them off. Gather children close and try to keep eye contact with the animal while backing out the way you came.
For more on cougars check the Ministry of Environment at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/cougsf.htm.
The issue with bears always comes back to humans, Ackles said. He has pointed out in the past there are plenty of bears in the mid-Island region, but they are only an issue once they get used to finding tasty garbage left out for them.
Don’t put your garbage out until the morning of pick up and do what you can to minimize other food sources, he stresses.
“People assume there’s some pristine valley where we can just take them all and relocate them,” he said, adding good relocation spots are harder and harder to find and bears routinely make their way back, often traveling 50 kilometers to the same area.
When you do run into a bear, like cougars, don’t turn your back. Talk loudly but, unlike with cougars do not be aggressive, calmly keep an eye in their direction without making eye contact while you walk away.
“Ninety-eight per cent of the time they just run away if they hear you coming,” Ackles said.
Report sightings to the conservation office at 1-877-952-7277 so they can keep track, but realize they do not respond to every call.
Also, let the superintendent of schools know at 250-954-4681 if it is near students, bus stops or schools.