Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cougars are more unpredictable than bears are

...So feels Peter Pauwels, a conservation officer who spoke recently to a group of local residents at Shirley Hall.

By Jim Sinclair
Sooke News Mirror, British Columbia
Sep 20 2006

Area residents with fruit trees on their property need to be aware that the edible bounty is a bear magnet. Apples, plums, cherries and pears add up to a bear's banquet and should be dealt with appropriately. These points and more were made by provincial conservation officer (C.O.) Peter Pauwels to the Shirley Community Association on September 13.

Pauwels was invited to address the group on the topic of bears and cougars - their numbers, habits- and what to do in the event the animals are encountered.

The two-hour presentation was well delivered and well received as Pauwels shared his extensive experience with the group of between 10 and 20 local residents.

September, according to Pauwels, is one of the months when black bears are most conspicuous, especially if food sources are scarce in their remote habitat. The animals are looking to fatten up for winter hibernation starting in November, and will access food wherever they can. Fish and berries are staples in the bears' diet, while garbage and other fruits are favourite side orders. It is up to area residents to keep that in mind as regards to their property.

Pauwels said a bear's sense of smell is as good as that of a bloodhound and the aroma of garbage or fallen fruit is irresistible to them.

He urged people who have fruit trees to handle what they can of the harvest and welcome others to collect the surplus. There are various folks who would appreciate it, and once the food is out of the way, it's less likely bears will be attracted to the area. Naturally, garbage should be properly disposed of and it is recommended compost piles be sprinkled with lime to curb odours.

Pauwels told the Sooke News Mirror that destroying bears and other animals is the worst part of his job, he likened the process to an execution.

While in many cases bear sightings are cause for concern, they are not always cause for alarm and Pauwels told the group not to phone conservation officers about a simple sighting. He said bears are looking for food, not trouble, and leaving them alone is usually the best bet. If a bear is acting erratically, is injured, or in a relatively densely populated area, then a C.O. should be contacted.

Pauwels said bears are not likely to approach a noisy area, and loud, large dogs are an effective repellant. Bear attacks on humans are unlikely, though there are two possible types - non-predatory (when the bear is startled or defending its territory) or predatory (when the bear sees the human as a potential meal). The predatory bear attack is extremely rare. If you ever hear a bear making a woofing or whining sound it is a sign the animal is distressed - try to remain calm and slowly leave the bear's space. It's not a bad idea to speak in a low, even voice while putting distance between you and the bear.

Pauwels indicated that 2002 to 2004 were busy years for conservation officers, and this year and last were below average in terms of bear-related activity.

The guest speaker then moved on to the topic of cougars - animals he considers much more dangerous than bears. Those at particular risk of harm by the large cats are children, small pets, and livestock- especially goats.

Pauwels said cougar sightings are reported more in the spring and summer, but it's not an indication there are more of them, rather there are more people outdoors. Cougar attacks are almost always predatory in nature, and are more likely when deer (the cats' primary prey) are scarce. Cougar numbers are, incidentally, directly related to deer numbers.

The odds of a cougar encounter can be reduced by using extra caution at dawn and dusk, but the cats are known to roam and hunt at any time of the day or night - in all seasons.

Pauwels said a large male cougar on the Island can weigh as much as 130 pounds, though most of those he's had to deal with have been young cats in the 80 to 90-pound range.

As pointed our in the BC Environment Safety Guide to Cougars - Never approach a cougar. Although they will normally avoid a confrontation, all cougars are unpredictable, and cougars feeding on a kill may be dangerous. When hiking or working, as is the case with bears, make noise to avoid startling a cougar. If an encounter occurs, make yourself as big as possible. Do not run or turn your back on the animal.

"If a cougar attacks - fight back," it is stated in the BC Environment literature. "Many people have survived cougar attacks by fighting back with anything including rocks, sticks, bare fists and fishing poles."

Pauwels informed the group that an average of one to two cougar attacks happen on the Island each year.

He stated that random cougar sightings are not cause to alert authorities, but unusual cougar activity is a situation in which a C.O. or police should be contacted. paper=32&cat=23&id=732697&more=

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