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Cougar sightings worry parents

 Kyla Degraas, early childhood educator at the Sunriver Child Care Centre stands by the four-foot fence in the backyard that is the only thing separating children from the forest behind where a cougar has been recently spotted.  - Benjamin Yong
Kyla Degraas, early childhood educator at the Sunriver Child Care Centre stands by the four-foot fence in the backyard that is the only thing separating children from the forest behind where a cougar has been recently spotted.
— image credit: Benjamin Yong

There have been multiple cougar sightings in backyards all over Sooke this year, the latest case being the backyard playground of the Sunriver Child Care Centre.

Just before dawn last Wednesday, a woman who lives just around the corner from the daycare spotted a cougar behind the building. Later in the early evening around 5:30 p.m., the owner of the child care center was leaving with some parents when they heard the unmistakable growl of a large wild cat.

“The owner was going to run, the parent said ‘no, no just walk’ and they got into their vehicles and just left,” said Kyla Degraas, early childhood educator at the centre.

Since then, the kids — ranging in age from nine months to five-years-old — have been staying indoors. Degraas said they made a call to the conservation office who responded by saying they “can’t come out unless small animals have gone missing.”

She said that was ridiculous, and wondered whether it would take an attack to get a  response.

“We’ve been stuck inside for two days, not even gone for a walk or play outside.”

The sighting is of particular concern to staff because in the fall and winter, it’s dark when kids are dropped off at 6:30 a.m. and also when they’re picked up in the early evening.

The daycare put up a big sign to let parents know and, for now, staff and children won’t venture out into the backyard where they normally spend up to three hours playing on swings, toy vehicles and other equipment. There is a black chain link fence that surrounds the playground, but it is only four feet tall and wouldn’t provide much protection from a wild animal.

Beyond the fence are trails and dense underbrush that is also home to bears, many of which have been sighted in the past.

“The bears are always getting into our garbage out front,” said Degraas.

Always isn’t an exaggeration — it’s happened about once a month since she started working there at the beginning of summer. Two Mondays ago in the morning when she was opening at 6:30 a.m., there was a “huge black bear seven or eight feet tall on its hind legs” knocking over their garbage. She knocked on the door to try to scare it away.

Degraas, who has a one-year-old of her own, said it’s scary and is hesitant of walking around Sunriver.

“I understand yes, we’re building into their territory but it’s a child care centre, it’s different than if it’s a business centre.”

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