Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen) Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)

Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Nature always has a way of coming into balance.

For a time, deer and cougars roamed Vancouver Island in relatively dense populations. Cougar populations are closely interconnected with their prey, as deer provide a vital source of food for the carnivores.

Up until the late 1970s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the ‘90s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land.

Provincial large carnivore specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have also impacted cougar density on the Island, as they had less to eat, and wolves will tend to eat some cougar cubs. Mowat highlighted that the Sunshine Coast, a similar habitat to the Island, is home to both wolves and cougars, and has never seen the highs in deer populations that the Island saw in the 1980s.

“We have nowhere near as good of data on cougars here, as compared to somewhere like Yellowstone, but I think it is fair to say that as wolves recovered on Vancouver Island there was some competition with cougars,” said Mowat. “The trend in cougar numbers is down to something like a third of what it was before. My guess is that it’s a competitive effect with wolves.”

RELATED: Co-existence with cougars possible

Mowat said as more wolves started appearing and deer populations declined, more cougars found themselves with inadequate food and were getting into conflicts with people. Since the 1990s, deer density has not recovered compared to where it was.

“Now populations may have balanced off. I haven’t heard about cougars attacking people on Vancouver Island for years,” said Mowat. “The attacks in the ‘80s and ‘90s could have been more food driven on the cougars’ part.”

Cougars need a territory of about 10 square kilometres, and during breeding season a male’s territory may increase two or three times in size while they search for a mate.

“They don’t just wander randomly, they are very territorial,” said Mowat. “Adult males will kill or injure young males that wander through searching for their own territory. Females have a home range, but you don’t hear as much about them trying to dissuade other cougars from entering their territory.”

Cougars are a solitary, nocturnal animal who eat almost any prey they can capture. Most of the Island’s population appear reddish brown in colour and a fully grown male will weigh about 70 kg. Mowat said cougars, as well as other predators, play an important role in an ecosystem, as they limit herbivore foraging on plants and young trees, and control the smaller mammal population.

Mowat noted that the biggest impact on cougar populations overall, however, has been due to human development.

“A parking lot is not a good habitat for virtually any animal,” said Mowat. “We need to think about better ways of living together with cougars, because when there is a conflict with a cougar, it usually ends up being killed.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

READ ALSO: B.C. man rescues dog that was trapped for 43 hours inside hidden well


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Just Posted

Teresa Hedley and a copy of her book, “What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism.” Photo supplied
Comox Library recognizes Autism Awareness Month with presentation by local author

April is World Autism Awareness Month, an annual opportunity to increase understanding… Continue reading

A donated towel warms a merlin chick. Photo supplied
MARS Moment: 2021 shaping up to be a record-setting year for animal rescues

Submitted by Jane Sproull Thomson Special to Black Press With the pandemic,… Continue reading

Comox council will further look at a troublesome traffic area in the Point Holmes area of the town. Photo submitted
Comox council to look at speed calming measures at Point Holmes

“…We are waiting for a problem to happen if we don’t act.”

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
19 Wing Comox crew involved in three-tonne cocaine seizure worth more than $293 million

12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron involved in Op Caribbe

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

NIC’s new president Lisa Domae assumed the role April 12. Domae has worked at NIC since 2000, most recently as executive vp academic and chief operating officer. Photo supplied
New North Island College president launches draft strategic plan

North Island College’s new president, Lisa Domae, kicked off her first official… Continue reading

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

Most Read