January 11, 2013 - 3:18 PM
Lumby RCMP are warning walkers to tread carefully after a cougar was spotted on a popular trail Wednesday.
Sightings of the elusive creature are quite rare, especially near towns.
"Wildlife may be encroaching on populated areas due to the recent heavy snowfalls," Lumby RCMP Cpl. Henry Proce said.
The cougar was seen on the east end of the Salmon River Trail, near the creek. Ed Atkinson, area supervisor for the West Okanagan, says cougars are shy creatures that avoid crossing paths with humans.
"They shouldn't be around towns," Atkinson says. "If they are, something's not right."
He says injured, old or excluded male cougars may be drawn to areas inhabited by humans because of the access to easy prey, including pets and livestock.
"Male cubs are sometimes kicked out by the dominant male, and wander around trying to find a place to belong," he says.
He says cougar sightings are most common on Vancouver Island, where he used to live and work, but even there it's rare to see one.
"I never saw one while I was there," he says.
Atkinson says cougars see us far more often than we see them, and notes a recent photograph taken of a hiker resting in a park while, unbeknownst to him, a cougar lounged in the treetops above.
"It happens all the time," he says, adding attacks are even rarer than sightings.
"If you see one, it's pretty special."
In his career, one of the main issues Atkinson has noticed has been with off-leash dogs.
"I call them Cougar Retrieval Systems."
He says dogs instinctively chase wildlife, including the XXL version of their house-cat adversaries.
"The dog realizes the cougar is bigger, and runs back to his owner, where he thinks he's safe," he says. But often, the cougar is hot on the canine's trail. Atkinson says many of the incidents he's heard of have involved dogs.
Proce encourages walkers to exercise caution while traversing Lumby's trails, and says notices have been posted and schools advised.
The Ministry of Environment gives the following recommendations for cougar encounters:
• Never approach a cougar. Although cougars will normally avoid a confrontation, all cougars are unpredictable. Cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous.
• Always give a cougar an avenue of escape.
• Stay calm. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice.
• Pick all children up off the ground immediately. Children frighten easily and their rapid movements may provoke an attack.
• Do not run. Try to back away from the cougar slowly. Sudden movement or flight may trigger an instinctive attack.
• Do not turn your back on the cougar. Face the cougar and remain upright.
• Do all you can to enlarge your image. Don't crouch down or try to hide. Pick up sticks or branches and wave them about.
Click here for more information about cougars and what to do if you cross paths with one.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013