You may have seen it online. A moose in a grocery store in Smithers. The bears relocated from Sooke. Or the three cougars killed in Sooke. The latter had a lot of local attention, with over 3,500 people seeing our Facebook posting.
Outrage, sadness and disappointment at killing such a beautiful animal dominated the online response. Interestingly, there seems to be a notable absence of attention given to human responsibility in proactive prevention.
Cougars are not euthanized (or killed or slaughtered or whatever term best suits) because parents are concerned for their children, or because lap-dog owners love their shiatsu, or because people are plain-old mean. Nor are they euthanized by blood thirsty conservation officers (COs) who have nothing better to do than wait for the call to kill.
Cougars are euthanized when they become habituated to a community. They are predatory animals, and the thought of sharing Sooke’s loosely defined notion-of-a-sidewalk with habituated cougars is an uncomfortable one. Especially when the cougars are hungry and trained to eat what we eat.
Cougars instinctually avoid humans, and rightly so. We’re not that nice, not even to each other. The only reason a cougar comes into our space in the first place is for the ready availability of food when their’s is sparse.
Our first strategy in minimizing human-wildlife conflict is prevention: Stop the cougars from coming into our community in the first place.
Fencing is one idea. Electric fencing is recommended. It keeps livestock safe, and it prevents wildlife from fine (and easy) dining. Ultimately, replacing livestock can be more costly than paying for an electric fence.
Hazing is another. This is where you harass the animal until it decides to move on. It must be continuous, concentrated (ideally where the cougar lives or preys) and caustic (effectively bothersome). A good method of hazing cougar is to get a livestock guard dog, like Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash or Maremma. (Keeping in mind that a dog is a for-life commitment.)
Don’t plant plants that attract deer, an enticing food source for cougar.
And don’t feed your house pets outside, as both (pet food and pets) are also a enticing food source for cougar.
What about relocating?
Relocating a displaced cat is a great idea, but only for a Disney flick. In real life, if you take an old cat who has been displaced from her own territory by a younger, stronger cat, and drop her into another cat’s territory, you have sentenced her to a fight-to-the-death. Same if you do that with her kittens: they will be mauled to death.
Yes (sigh), we are in their territory. Ever since Eve and Adam screwed up horribly and got kicked out of their apartment in the sky, we humans have made a nasty habit of spreading our tendrils. But somehow, culling the human race, as appealing as it may appear at times, strikes me as an unviable option. After all, without a dense human population, who will cover the interest payments and taxes?
The number one takeaway message all of us should be receiving loud and clear from this incident quite simply is: Do not feed the wildlife.
Britt Santowski is a reporter with the Sooke News Mirror.