Michael Handley spent two hours taking pictures of this cougar, who didn’t mind his company. Photo: Michael Handley

Michael Handley spent two hours taking pictures of this cougar, who didn’t mind his company. Photo: Michael Handley

‘An amazing encounter’: Kootenay photographer’s intimate hours with a cougar

Michael Handley’s picture is on the cover of Canadian Geographic

Two of the most important hours of Michael Handley’s life were spent face to face and alone with a cougar in a Kootenay forest.

In September 2016, Handley was attending a fair in Harrop when he was told about a dead cougar that had been found at a nearby property. The body, he found out, was being guarded by another cougar.

Handley, a wildlife photographer, decided to find the pair. He was given permission by the landowner and handed a map drawn on a Post-it note. Then, with only a camera and some bear spray for protection, he set out.

The pictures he returned with changed his life.

“It was an amazing encounter with just a wonderful animal,” says Handley, “and gracious. Oh, boy was she gracious.”

Two of those pictures are in the May-June issue of Canadian Geographic, one of which is on the cover after Handley’s shot of the cougar won an online reader vote.

But five years ago, Handley wasn’t thinking about prestige as he walked into the forest.

When he approached the location, ravens circling above flew away and he heard a rustling over his right shoulder. Behind him, approximately 12 metres away, was a young cougar watching him.

Handley leaned against a tree and kept his eyes on the cat. It struck him that its body language wasn’t threatening.

“It’s always on the animals,” he says. “If I don’t get approval from the animal to take photos it doesn’t happen. But she was cool with me hanging out with her for a considerable amount of time.”

The cougar appeared mostly indifferent to Handley. It sometimes changed positions and even took a few brief naps.

Handley had worked with grizzlies and coyotes in the past but had never been in a close encounter with cougars. He stayed alert, but relaxed, as the pair watched birds and squirrels and rested in the quiet of the forest while Handley took pictures.

“When you spend as much time out alone in the woods as I do you pick up the voice of the forest. Little noises, everything. It will tell you what’s going on. And I just experienced it with her.”

When it was over, the cougar got up and quietly padded out of Handley’s view into the forest. It had felt, he says, as though two minutes had passed, not two hours.

Handley returned home, emotional, and with pictures of an encounter he’ll cherish forever.

“It was,” he says now, “a very uplifting experience.”

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

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

 

Michael Handley and his field assistant Alice take a look at the new issue of Canadian Geographic. Handley’s picture of a cougar won a reader vote to be on the cover. Photo: Submitted

Michael Handley and his field assistant Alice take a look at the new issue of Canadian Geographic. Handley’s picture of a cougar won a reader vote to be on the cover. Photo: Submitted

Just Posted

The current location of Comox Valley Search and Rescue on Moray Avenue in Courtenay. Google Maps photo
Comox Valley Search and Rescue aiming to purchase a roof for their rescuers

Their goal is to raise between $1.2 and $1.5 million, approximately the purchase price of a facility

A bear is seen walking down Alderwood Place in east Courtenay Sunday (May 9) morning. Video screenshot/Kristie Cave
Video: Bears spotted throughout Comox Valley

Hide food sources, keep garbage away: conservation

Carter Woods was first across the line at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, Saturday in Altstadt, Germany. File photo
Cumberland mountain biker wins World Cup race in Germany

Carter Woods of Cumberland won a World Cup mountain bike race Saturday… Continue reading

The flowers of Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) before the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox
DUCHESS OF DIRT: Plenty of ‘wow’ factor in the garden in spring

Leslie Cox Special to The Record I can’t help it. I like… Continue reading

WestJet in flight. Black Press file photo
Two COVID exposures on WestJet flight into Comox

The BC Centre for Disease Control has posted advisories for two separate… Continue reading

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

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

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

The only access to 5th Street bridge heading east (toward Lewis Park) is via Anderton Avenue. Photo by Terry Farrell.
Single lane alternating traffic controls on Courtenay bridge now in effect

Single lane alternating traffic on the 5th Street Bridge is now in… Continue reading

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Most Read