A West Kootenay cougar made headlines last week after an unprovoked attack on a conservation officer near Salmo, with the incident serving to underscore what West Kootenay wildlife authorities say are unusually high numbers of cougar sightings there.
The attack on the Castlegar-based conservation officer came as he was responding to a call at home outside Salmo. The officer, who suffered minor injuries, had to kill the cougar, which was juvenile and described as being “emaciated”, to stop the attack. He had just come from another cougar call in which he had had to put down a cougar that had been hit by a pickup truck.
Acting head Kootenay region conservation officer Tobe Sprado said there have been 14 cougar complaints in the Salmo area in the past 10 months, but that 10 of those complaints were made in February. Sprado said the current deep snow conditions may have pushed cougars into the area, into much closer proximity to humans than normal, in an effort to find food.
Similar snow conditions throughout the Kootenay region, including here in the Upper Columbia Valley — and that in conjunction with relatively cold temperatures throughout the winter — has had local conservation officers expecting a similar spike in cougar sightings here, but so far that hasn’t been the case.
“Overall, we’ve been surprised. It’s been the opposites, and has been slower for cougar calls that most years. We were expecting there to be more calls because of the exceptionally deep snow and the cold conditions, but in the past couple weeks we’ve actually had almost no reported sightings,” Invermere conservation officer Greg Kruger told The Echo.
The only recent cougar reports to the Conservation Office in the Columbia Valley have been complaints from Radium of wildlife (deer and bighorn sheep) that appear to have been killed by a cougar.
“Nobody’s actually seen the cougar, but there has been evidence of what appears to be cougar kills. We have been removing the carcasses and so far it hasn’t been deemed to be a public safety threat, since the cougar has exhibited what we term normal cougar behaviour” said Kruger.
In mid-January, a cougar was reported to have looked into a window of a home, in the south end of Windermere, with smallkids and pets inside during the day.
“But it appears it was then scared out of the area, and it hasn’t come back. Cougars are curious by nature, but it is quiteunusual for a cougar to expose itself in daylight like that, so we did put the neighbourhood on alert. But there weren’t anymore calls,” said Kruger.
Valley residents, however, need to keep in mind the heightened possibility of cougar sightings, despite the lack of them sofar, according to Kruger.
“There’s no doubt that all wildlife, including cougars, are having a hard time surviving and are having to expend moreenergy to find food sources,” said Kruger. “People still need to be aware that, because of the conditions cougars maypossibly be a bit more desperate to find food sources, and need to be a bit more vigilant with their pets or small kids,particularly near wooded areas.”
From spring 2015 through spring 2016, Invermere conservation officers had to put down two cougars, both of which hadkilled domestic animals. This year (spring 2016 through to springs 2017) the officers had to put down just one cougar sofar — the one that stalked several people on the east side of Columbia Lake, south of Fairmont Hot Spring last summer.
Local conservation officers are interested in monitoring cougar activity and any sighting should be reported to the ReportAll Poachers and Polluters (RAPP) hotline at 1-877 952 7277.