Cougar sightings and incidents appear to be increasing in the Comox Valley, according to statistics from the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.
For the 2010/11 reporting year ending March 31, the emergency co-ordination centre (Report All Poachers and Polluters) received 300 cougar-related calls. These range from sightings to pet and livestock interaction or fatalities, to physical contact with humans.
For this year, as of April 1, the centre has received 272 cougar calls, 54 from Courtenay. Last year, it received 43 calls from Courtenay.
The picture is similar in Comox with 30 cougar sightings or incidents for 2011/12 compared to 11 last year.
A cougar sighting was reported on the Labour Day weekend near Hurford Hill Nature Park in East Courtenay. Later in the week, a cougar killed a horse at a Dove Creek property.
Jerry MacDermott, a wildlife technician with the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said cougar and deer numbers have been increasing steadily throughout Vancouver Island the past five years. A rebounding deer population in the mountains means the cougar population is responding in terms of hunting and rearing more offspring.
“A lot of these juvenile offspring are dispersing, they’re looking for their own territory,” MacDermott said. “I think that’s why a lot more cats are hanging around a lot of the communities. There’s a prey base there. There’s not a big cougar chasing them around as there would be in the mountains.”
Though mindful of legitimate complaints, MacDermott said people sometimes think they have seen or heard a cougar when it turns out to be another animal.
“I have caught house cats that people have thought were cougars,” he said.
There are no updates on the Sept. 8 incident in Dove Creek where a cougar killed a 410-kilogram Norwegian Fjord named Dawn who had been a therapeutic riding horse. COs set up traps and a camera but the cougar did not return the following evening.
“Generally cats will only eat fresh meat,” conservation officer Steve Petrovcic said, noting some cougars eat parts of their prey immediately after an attack while others lap up the blood and move on.
“Generally, prey-predator relationships are cyclic,” Petrovcic added. “Here on Vancouver Island, a cougar’s diet is probably 95 to 98 per cent deer.”
That said, other domestic farm animals have been killed by predators in the North Island. An emu, for instance, was attacked and killed a few years ago on Quadra Island. Goats and sheep have also been targets, Petrovcic said.
MacDermott notes cougars will also take elk, beavers and other small prey.
In the Dove Creek incident, Dawn was the lone horse at the property. MacDermott said the attacking cougar was apparently a large cat, likely experienced at taking down elk.
“There are instances in the province where cougars have attacked large hoof stock,” he said. “It is quite common for a cougar to kill elk. A large bull elk can weigh 1,000-plus pounds. A cow elk would be around 600 pounds.”
He notes a 70-pound adult female can take down either.
“Large male cougars, or toms, it’d be nothing for them to kill a 1,000-pound bull elk,” MacDermott said. “They’re very secretive; they’re very powerful.”
Call 1-877-952-7277 to report cougar sightings or wildlife interactions.