Education is the key

Castlegar News bi-weekly columnist touches on the topic of potentially dangerous wildlife

I love to see animals in the wild. In fact, when my husband and I are out and about in the car we are always scanning the area hoping that something, anything, will jump out from a thicket of trees or shrubs. It matters naught to us if it is “just” a squirrel or a rabbit. We enjoy seeing them for sure, but we really get pumped if we see a coyote, bear, deer, elk or moose ‑ especially a moose.

I remember working at Trail Hospital in the mid-80s. One early morning I was travelling to work from Castlegar when I rounded the large curve near Genelle and a moose slowly ambled out in front of me. He was huge and beautifully majestic. Just as he got in front of the car he stopped, turned his head and looked straight at me. At that time I was driving a Honda and I knew that if the moose decided to charge that little Honda was little protection against him. So I waited until he decided to continue his trek. I likely wasn’t any more than 10 feet or so away from him and so I was treated to this beautiful, up close and personal encounter with the wild. Until the day I die I will never forget how I could see his nostrils flare and almost count each and every hair on his body. It’s unlikely that I will ever see that sort of thing again with a front row seat.

Recently there have been reports of cougars being seen near Broadwater Road and Pass Creek Road. Cougars! Reading local online news and social media sites, it’s been interesting to view the comments from everyone. While almost everyone appreciates their beauty, there are those with pets and children who have real concerns regarding the cougars’ proximity to them. I can appreciate that.

So what are we to do when the boundaries between man and wildlife become blurred? There are those who say the animals have every right to roam and that it is we humans who are encroaching upon their territory. Their simple solution is to learn to live with wildlife and give the cougars a wide berth.

Then there are those who say they have every right to live their life safely and without fear of their pets or children being mauled by the cougars. As far as they are concerned they want conservation officers to rid them of the felines in whatever manner it takes, whether it be relocating or killing them.

Therein lies the problem. These huge cats are territorial. The females and their kittens live in groups and thus when ranges overlap it’s not hypercritical to those female groups. While male ranges might occasionally overlap with female ranges, they do not overlap with other male ranges. Therefore relocating cougars is not the best answer if one is relocating a male.

So, that leaves the other option. You know, the one where the conservation officer is pressured to kill the perceived threat. I wouldn’t want their job for all the tea in China.

I don’t know what the answer is. It’s likely that as we encroach more and more into their territory these sightings will become more common. With slowly dwindling deer populations (one of their main sources of food) these cats will look to other food sources. I’m talking Fido, Trixie and possibly small humans.

Possibly we should look into ways to increase the wild game population.

Until then, all I can say is keep your pets and children close to you and if you should encounter a cougar face-to-face, don’t run – they will consider you prey if you run. It’s recommended that instead you should make intense eye contact, make yourself appear larger, and shout loudly but calmly. Apparently sticks used in defense work too, but I would rather not find that out on my own.

The best thing you can do is educate yourself about cougars. If anything, you will find yourself learning more about these beautiful animals, and that can’t be bad.