Cougars on the prowl – keep a look out!

Cougars on the prowl – keep a look out!

Spring is here and so are the warm days. With more people out on the trails, cougar sightings have been very common lately. Considering sightings are typically very rare, the recent visibility is worriesome. Please take care, ride in groups, and keep children and pets close by. Cougars, their tracks and markings have been seen on both Forbidden Plateau and Cumberland trails.

ATTENTION FELLOW RIDERS: Three cougars seen while our Wednesday shop ride headed down Cliffe Ave. trail (Forbidden Plateau)… and they stared at us as much as we stared at them!

I’d recommend travel through this general area not be attempted solo.

Jefe – Simon’s Cycle’s

Cougars - the 4 legged type

So… What to does this mean?

As a refresher, I’ve added the following information to help you understand interactions with Cougars.

Cougars are solitary, except for mothers with young. Their prey species include deer, wild sheep, elk, rabbits, birds and other small animals. ¹

Most active at dusk and dawn, cougars can roam and hunt throughout the day or night in all seasons. They have ranges up to 300 sq km and may roam up to 80 km in a single day.

During late spring and summer, one to two year old cougars become independent of their mothers. While attempting to find a home range, these young cats often roam widely in search of an unoccupied territory. This is when they are most likely to come into contact with people.

There is a healthy population of cougar in Alberta and British Columbia.

Signs of Cougar Presence

Cougar Tracks

Although your chances of seeing one of these elusive cats is slim, you need to be aware of their existence when in cougar country. Cougars mark their territory along trails, under trees, or on the edge of a ridge. They use mounds of scraped and scratched earth, pine needles and other forest litter, soaked with urine and feces. The feces are ususally large, partially covered and contain hair and bone fragments.

Cougar tracks look like those of a house cat, only much larger -the size of a baseball. The tracks have four toes with three distinct lobes present at the base of the pad. Claws usually do not leave imprints. The front paw is always larger than the back paw mark.

More info on comparing dog and cougar tracks – click here

When in Cougar Country

Cougars are predators at the top of the food chain, and their actions are often unpredictable. Following these general guidelines will reduce the risk of cougar conflict:

  • Hike in groups of two or more, and make enough noise to avoid suprising a cougar
  • Be extremely alert when biking in cougar country – a human on a bike looks like a deer running
  • Carry a sturdy walking stick and pepper spray to be used as a weapon if necessary
  • Keep children close and under control
  • Watch for cougar tracks and signs
  • Check with the local park office about wildlife sightings before your trip
  • If you stumble upon cougar kittens, leave the area immediately as the female will defend her young
  • If you live in cougar country, do not attract wildlife to your yard, especially deer, who will clean up under bird feeders
  • Never leave pet food outside, feed your pets indoors, and always bring your pets in at night
  • Place domestic livestock in an enclosed shed or barn at night

Hiking with Children

Cougars seem to be attracted to children, due to their high pitched voices, small size and erratic movements which are all similar to small prey animals.

Talk to children and teach them what to do if they encounter a cougar. Encourage them to play in groups, and always supervise children playing outdoors in cougar country

A dog is an effective early warning system, as they see, smell and hear a cougar sooner than people

If You Meet A Cougar

  • DO NOT RUN. Back away slowly, always looking them in the eye. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
  • Never turn your back on a cougar – face the cat and remain upright
  • Do all you can to make yourself look bigger. Hold a coat, branch or any other object over your head, or wave it around. Don’t crouch down or try to hide
  • Yell, throw rocks, speak loudly and firmly. Convince the cougar that you are a threat, not prey
  • Always give the cougar an avenue of escape
  • Pick children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may trigger an attack
  • If the cat attacks FIGHT BACK. Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything they have, including rocks, sticks, fists, fishing poles, cameras etc

Cougars are a vital part of Canada’s diverse wildlife. Seeing a cougar should be an exciting, rewarding experience, with both you and the cougar coming away unharmed. Prevention is better than confrontation, so prepare yourself before venturing into their habitat.

If you live in or near cougar habitat: ²

1. Keep pets indoors or in secure kennels at night, and never leave pet food or food scraps outside.
2. Bring farm animals into enclosed sheds or barns at night.
3. Closely supervise children playing outdoors, and make sure they are indoors by dusk, when cougars are more active.
4. Light walkways and remove heavy vegetation or landscaping near the house.
5. Store garbage in secure containers so odors do not attract small animals or other wildlife. Remember, predators follow prey.

While recreating in cougar habitat, you should:

1. Hike in small groups and make enough noise to avoid surprising a cougar.
2. Keep your camp clean and store food and garbage in double plastic bags.
3. Keep small children close to the group, preferably in plain sight just ahead of you.
4. Do not approach dead animals, especially deer or elk; they could have been cougar prey left for a later meal.

If you encounter a cougar:

1. Stop, stand tall and don’t run. Pick up small children. Don’t run. A cougar’s instinct is to chase.
2. Do not approach the animal, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens.
3. Try to appear larger than the cougar. Never take your eyes off the animal or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
4. If the animal displays aggressive behavior, shout, wave your arms and throw rocks. The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
5. If the cougar attacks, fight back aggressively and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back.

Additionally if you see cougars again, please contact the authorities with information on time and location, as they may need to be moved to a new location further from people.

Great Cougar safety handout – pdf download

Resources:

¹ http://www.simplywildcanada.com/Cougar-Safety.html

² http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/cougars.htm

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