The B.C. Conservation Service is warning people in Sooke to keep an eye out while on trails, after a cougar leaped at a man’s dog and a woman was followed in two separate encounters in the Sea to Sea Regional Park and Sooke Potholes areas.
“It’s a little bit of an odd one,” said conservation officer Scott Norris, who added that as a result of the reports, the Capital Regional District implemented new signs at trailheads to warn people of a cougar presence.
In the last weekend of February, a man was hiking with his dog near Peden Lake, about an hour northwest of the Galloping Goose trail, when a cougar jumped on his dog. The man swung his backpack at the wild animal, causing it to retreat. The dog wasn’t harmed.
While typically unusual for a cougar to get that close, cougar encounters do happen, especially that far into the backcountry, Norris said, adding that dogs can sometimes be an attractant for cougars.
“Sometimes, younger cougars will mistake dogs for deer, especially if you have a brown dog as it has happened many times in the past,” he said. “We don’t know if the cougar intended for the dog, or if it’s just one of those one-off incidents.”
In a separate incident on March 6, a woman was hiking on a trail near Grass Lake when a cougar came towards her on a parallel trail.
“She saw it, they kind of did the stare-down thing for a little bit, yelled at it a bit, threw some sticks at it, after the stare-down thing, it slinked away a wee bit off into the bush.”
Only the cougar didn’t go away. She kept hiking down the main trail, until a couple of minutes later, she turned around and it was following her from behind. This time, she screamed even louder while standing her ground, causing the cougar to eventually run back into the bush.
The encounters happened a week apart and one kilometer within each other.
“Fortunately this woman had her wits about her, she didn’t run, she stood her ground and backed away slowly,” Norris said, adding that in a cougar encounter it’s important to remain calm and not run away, otherwise you’ll give the impression that you are prey.
Norris said that while neither of the cougar encounters were physical attacks, the proximity and common occurrence of the encounters still raises a public safety concern.
“That’s not typical cougar behavior,” he said. “Often we have young cougars that are curious, they’re not necessarily intending people as prey, but when we get a couple of incidents in a row, then it gets us a little concerned.”
Conservation authorities went to investigate but had “no luck” finding the animal.
“We’re monitoring the situation,” Norris said.
Some suggestions to stay safe while still enjoying wild outdoors of Sooke is to carry pepper or bear spray, as well as travel in hiking groups rather than alone. Dog owners are also encouraged to keep their dogs on a leash as often cougars will mistake them for other prey.
Cougar sightings were also reported this week in the Otter Point area and near Journey Middle School, however no cougar was confirmed.
Anyone noticing aggressive behaviour from a cougar, such as following them and taking an interest in them should call the Conservation Officer Service right away at 1-877-952-7277, cougar sightings notwithstanding.