Tuesday, September 01, 2009

British Columbia: Resident cougars 'pose no threat'

A conservation officer reports that two adult cougars have been living in South Langley for several years.

Roxanne Hooper
Langley Advance

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A cougar has been spotted numerous times in South Langley over the past 10 days, but the local conservation officer says residents need not worry.

A pair of adult cougars have resided in the area for years, and posed no threat to local residents, livestock, or even pets, said conservation officer Jack Trudgian.

"There's no reason for us to move them out," he told the Langley Advance. "They're living in their natural habitat... There's been absolutely no problems."

But some area residents are still fearful.

The managers of a horse barn on 216th Street, just south of 16th Avenue, worry 15 miniature horses, 12 full-sized horses, and several children who hang out around the centre could be in danger.

Judy Toney said she and Cayce Vanderzalm have managed the boarding facility since June 2008, and for the first time, they're locking horses in the barns at night: "These are people's valuable horses, so you don't want to take any risks," Toney said.

Concerns started two weeks ago, after a neighbour saw a cougar sunbathing in a pasture. Since then, there have been a few sightings near the barns, Vanderzalm said.

The barn operators now fear the tiny horses will become "cougar bait," Vanderzalm said.

"These people [boarders] are getting nervous to be here," Toney said, noting she's called the conservation office a few times, without response.

"It's wonderful that we've got wildlife here," she said. "We don't want the cougar to be shot. It would be ideal if it could be caught and relocated."

But tranquilizing and relocating the cats is not the answer, Trudgian said.

Vanderzalm and Toney have posted warning signs around the barns, and asked boarders to be extra-diligent when working and riding on the 37-acre farm. Further, they've posted steps to follow if and when anyone spots a cougar, and how to contact the B.C. Conservation Services.

That's exactly what they should be doing, said Trudgian, noting people living and playing up against a wilderness terrain should always be cautious.

"We just have to educate people about how to live with cougars, bears, and coyotes," he said, noting Langley is rich with wildlife.

Trudgian encourages people to call in if they see a cougar - it helps track the cat's movements - but said officers no longer respond to reports if there is no threat to people or livestock.

And these cougars, he reiterated, don't pose a threat.

Conservation officers have been monitoring this pair for a couple years. They roam from the border to 30th Avenue, and from 200th to 264th Street. Their habitat may extend south into the U.S., Trudgian said. There are long stretches of time where he doesn't hear of any sightings in Langley.

"We'll just keep monitoring their movement and their behaviour. Their behaviour at this time and in past has been good. They're living off their natural food source. They're just being wild animals, doing what they do," Trudgian said.

There is an ample supply of deer, coyotes, and raccoons for the cougars. They wouldn't typically attack horses, other livestock, humans, or pets, unless they're sick or starving.

While that's reassuring for George Robson of Pacific Country Stables, he's still concerned.

In the three years he's live on 16th Avenue, he's never seen or heard of a cougar in the neighbourhood. But after one of his boarders saw a cat in the pasture on Aug. 20, he's locked up his 10 goats and Shetland pony, because of the cougars, but also due to coyotes.

Robson first raised alarm. He spent the evening after the sighting, warning all nearby properties where he knew there were young children or small animals.

Nora Doorman, who has lived around 216th Street and 16th Avenue for seven years, never heard or saw a cougar before.

But last Thursday, her dog Bruzy barked the way he does at coyotes. But this time, Doorman saw a cougar crossing her yard.

"They're not doing anything wrong; just leave them alone," Trudgian said.

For more information, the Ministry of Environment has a guide to cougar safety online at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/cougsf.htm.

Anyone seeing a cougar is asked to call the Conservation Officers Service, 1-800-731-6373.




Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org

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