Off the Record: Knowing is half the battle

Letter writers to the valley's two fine local newspapers in recent weeks have urged readers to treat cougars with respect.

Letter writers to the valley’s two fine local newspapers in recent weeks have urged readers to treat cougars with respect.

The letters follow some fantastic close-up cougar photos submitted by a Juniper Heights resident and reports about cougar sightings a few week ago. In two cases, conservation officers were forced to destroy the cats, which had been hunting and killing prey close to homes and slowly becoming habituated to human presences.

Each letter writer describe a close encounter with a cougar and urges readers that although cougars can be dangerous, they need not always be destroyed.

The letter writers do have a point – a quick online search returns records of only about 20 fatal cougar attacks in North America during the past 120 years or so, which means you stand a much more likely chance of being fatally attacked by a pet dog (more than 300 in past 100 years). It seems reasonable to suggest that cougars are more feared that they statistically should be — probably owing to their fierce reputation.

But on the flip side, it also seems reasonable to suggest that the cougars’ fierce reputation is well deserved – they have the tools (claws, teeth, explosively powerful muscle mass) and the temperament to easily dispatch humans they perceive to be a threat or to be prey.

In this regard, the conservation officers most certainly seem to have a point to destroying the cougars they did — as the cougars become habituated to humans the likelihood of a cougar-human-encounter-gone-bad skyrockets.

A better understanding of cougar behaviour is no doubt a useful tool for any community to help reduce the chances of conflict with humans. In the valley there are plenty of option to learn more, not just about cougar behaviour, but also about the behaviour of all kinds of wildlife.

Hopefully you’ll never encounter a cougar — it’s better for both you and the cat that way. But if you do,  behaving in a wildlife-smart fashion will surely help both you and the cat get through the encounter more safely.


Steve Hubrecht is a reporter for The Valley Echo and can be reached at: