A series of cougar sightings have some Sooke residents concerned and conservation officers on alert, but officials say there’s no cause for alarm.
“We’ve had three sightings in the past few days, and we believe it’s probably the same cat,” said Rick Dekelver, a conservation officer.
The first sighting was three days ago on Maple Avenue South. Two days ago conservation officers investigated a cougar killing a deer on Larkspur Road, and yesterday a cougar was sighted on Wadams Way.
“We actually believe it’s probably the same cat, or perhaps members of a small family group, although that’s less likely,” Dekelver said.
Dekelver said when cougars are sighted in an urban setting, conservation officers draw on their experience and more than 100 years of cougar study and observation to make hard choices.
“Of course, we have to assess whether the animal poses a risk to people, but in this case the animal appears to be healthy and hasn’t displayed any aggressive behaviour toward humans,” he said.
“Initial reports that the cat was stalking the young man on the bike yesterday (Tuesday) proved to be false. It was actually just a matter of the cougar and the boy being startled by the sudden appearance of both of them on the path at the same time.”
Conservation officers will step in to track and euthanize the cougar if it’s judged that the animal is diseased, underweight, or acting in an abnormal manner.
“When we have had cougar attacks, it’s almost always the case that the animal is stressed and hungry and acting out of a survival instinct,” Dekelver said.
“That’s not the case here. With the exception of the fact that cougars are generally nocturnal and this one has been seen during daylight hours, this cat is acting pretty much like a cougar should act.”
Dekelver said it’s possible the cougar has made deer kill in the area and is lingering with that kill for a few days before moving on.
An immediate concern of the Conservation Officer Service is that people are under the impression that if they report a cougar sighting the animal will automatically be killed. That belief leads them not to notify conservation officers which, in turn, makes it harder for officers to judge the situation and make good decisions.
“The last thing we want to do is to kill one of these beautiful animals,” Dekelver said.
“We want to co-exist with the cougars, knowing that on any given night there are probably one or more cougars in and around Sooke. We’ll only step in if there is a risk to the public.”
Tyler Hooper, of the Ministry of Environment, said the Conservation Officer Service is monitoring the situation in Sooke and has asked that anyone who sees a cougar not approach the animal.
Last April, seven-year-old Zachary Bromley was attacked by one of a pair of young cougars in the Lake Cowichan area. The investigation showed the cats were about six months old and emaciated, and likely separated from their mother.
The attack was the first in the region since 1985, when a diseased cougar attacked a child at Camp Thunderbird.
“Again, I’ll stress that we are on scene and monitoring the situation, but this cougar appears to be healthy and just doing what cougars do. At present, we don’t see it as a threat to people. Hopefully, it will just move on,” Dekelever said.
“If that changes, we’ll do what we need to do to protect the public.”
Report cougar sightings to 1-877-952-7277.