Cougar-related complaints are higher this year than last, but bear-related complaints are about the same, according to local conservation officer James Hilgemann.
“It’s definitely been a busy year for cougars more so than other years,” says Hilgemann. “We’ve had a couple attacks on humans this year but for the most part they’re basically eating cats and dogs and all the local deer that have come into the towns. So, really for the number of complaints that we get there’s not that many documented attacks.”
Hilgemann adds it’s still pretty rare to see a cougar, but conservation officers are kept busy responding to complaints.
“We had a cougar two weeks ago we had to remove from the Comox Rod and Gun Club property,” he says, for example. “We had the hounds and treed it and removed it, just because of public safety concern; there was kids camping at the range.”
Hilgemann says deer in urban areas attract the cougars and the cougars have a “very healthy” population, as he explains why conservation officers believe complaints have increased.
“A lot of the larger males were shot during the hunting season because (hunters are) encouraged to shoot the bigger males,” he continues, noting big males usually eat some of the cubs so when they are shot more cubs live.
“So, you’ve got a really good recruitment of younger animals and that seems to be the ones that are getting into trouble, you know, coming into the towns, first year on their own, typically one-and-a-half to two-year-old cats — they’re forging out their own territory and they cross the line on occasion.”
Meanwhile, incidents involving bears, especially in Cumberland, have picked up over the past couple of weeks, but Hilgemann notes that’s typical at this time of year. Typically, bears activity in Cumberland lasts through October and November.
A mother bear with two cubs was reported last week in the Maryport Avenue and Sixth Street area.
Conservation officers and RCMP officers were on scene, and according to Cpl. Chris Backus, the cubs became trapped in a live bear trap, but the mother was not.
“The mom was there, not in the trap, so she was upset,” says Backus. “Obviously, a mama bear that’s upset could pose a risk to the people even just walking by, in the daytime.”
Backus adds officers were able to get the mother bear far enough away from the trap to open it and let the cubs out. The bears then ran off into the forested area behind the BMX track.
Hilgemann says unpicked fruit trees are a big attractant for bears. However, he is also concerned bears will be more enticed by garbage this year, as this fall is the first with garbage being picked up every two weeks in Cumberland instead of every week.
“They’ve gone to this once-every-two-week garbage pick-up process for composting and that has to be revisited I would say,” he says. “People having to store their garbage inside their homes or trailers — it’s posing a real risk to the people, you know, a bear actually breaking in in search of the attractant.”
Longtime Cumberland resident Janet Barnes, who reported the mother and cubs last week, says she regularly sees bears around her home, but she’s concerned about garbage attracting more bears with the two-week garbage pickup, as well.
“There’s a bear here every night,” she says, adding she’s seen garbage in her neighbourhood that looks like bears have been in it. “There’s probably the same amount of bears but there’s more problems, conflict with people because of this garbage issue.”
Cumberland and Comox were chosen for a one-year organics waste collection program which started in June. Since then garbage has been picked up every two weeks, alternating with recycling, and compostable waste has been picked up every week.
But, Village bylaw enforcement officer Darby Arseneault says she hasn’t seen an increase in bear activity this year.
“From what I’ve witnessed, it’s about the same thing as always around this time of year, when the fruit trees aren’t picked and bears are coming in,” she says.
She works with conservation officers, and will visit neighbourhoods with spikes in bear activity to speak with residents about bear awareness — noting the importance of picking their fruit trees and properly storing attractants.
Village chief administrative officer Sundance Topham says if there’s no increase in bear activity then he doesn’t believe “organics has an impact on it at all.”
He adds the Village received complaints about the organics program when it was first launched, but complaints have “dramatically reduced” since then, and the Village has been receiving positive feedback lately.
Village staff are keeping track of the feedback and will report it to council at some point in the future of the one-year pilot.
“All year we would hope that people put their garbage in animal-proof containers and store it in a location where animals can’t access it, whether it’s every week or every two weeks,” says Topham, adding recycling can also attract animals if it has any food residue on it. “So, it’s not just the garbage, it’s the organics and it’s the recycling that should be stored inside and then put out the day of solid waste collection to be picked up.”
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Report any cougar or bear sightings to the conservation officer 24-hour hotline at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).
According to the conservation officer service website, if you see a cougar, stay calm and keep the cougar in view. Pick up children immediately — children frighten easily, the noise and movements they make could provoke an attack. Back away slowly, ensuring that the animal has a clear avenue of escape. Make yourself look as large as possible. Keep the cougar in front of you at all times.
Never run or turn your back on a cougar. Sudden movement may provoke an attack.
If a cougar shows interest or follows you, respond aggressively. Maintain eye contact with the cougar, show your teeth and make loud noise. Arm yourself with rocks or sticks as weapons. Crouch down as little as possible when bending down to pick up things off of the ground.
If a cougar attacks, fight back. Convince the cougar you are a threat and not prey. Use anything you can as a weapon. Focus your attack on the cougar’s face and eyes.
If you see a bear in your community, remain calm as the bear is often just passing through looking for food. Keep away from the bear, bring your children and pets indoors and warn your neighbours.
If the bear is threatening, persistent or aggressive, call the conservation office or police.
If you see a bear in the wild, do not make eye contact; try to appear large and back away slowly.