Reports of a cougar prowling in the bench area of Terrace have some residents worried, and conservation officials are reminding them that while there is typically a low density of cougars in the area, it’s always important to be aware.
“They’re around, just in small numbers,” said North Coast zone conservation officer Gareth Scrivner, noting the office has received three sightings this year, all in July.
That is on par with how many sightings there have been in previous years, and none of the three sightings involved problem behaviour.
“It’s probably only one cougar that’s been seen,” he said, noting the information they’ve collected this year is consistent with the same adult cougar that’s been sighted over the last few years.
“Generally when people have seen it it’s been on a property that backs onto thick bush, usually on the back of a mountainside, and it’s just been kind of running that edge of the properties on the edge of town,” he said.
The cougar has typically been sighted on the Kitsumkalum side of the river, but it’s not abnormal for the animal to pass through the bench as that area is part of it’s large territory that spans Kitsumkalum, north Terrace, Kitselas, the Copper River area, across the Skeena and the Kalum rivers.
“I’ve seen cougar tracks down by Sockeye Creek, which is near Williams Creek near Lakelse Lake,” he said, adding there are odd sightings in Jack Pine.
“It’s good to be cautious,” he said. “The problem is that they can cover big distances, so there’s nothing saying that animal is still there. I think it’s going back at least a week since the last sighting we have.”
While there is a public safety issue with cougars attacking children, that’s less of a concern here than in places where there is a high-density of cougars like on Vancouver Island and the Kootenays. There, in milder climates cougars prefer, a large deer population supports a large cougar population, and when one- and two-year-old juveniles go out to find their own territory, they sometimes enter urban areas. Here, where there are less cougars covering large territories, the main concern is for people’s pets.
“A cougar would pick off small mammals, so small dogs and cats do fit into that prey profile,” he said. “It wouldn’t be unusual for us to see a cougar working the back side of an urban area like that where people may have cats that just disappear into the bush occasionally.”
But if there have been known cougar sightings in the area, it’s important to play it safe.
If you come across a cougar on a trail or in the bush, the first thing to remember is don’t turn your back. “Don’t turn your back on a cougar, face the animal, make yourself appear big. Talk, shout, and just back away slowly while facing the cougar.”
Adults can teach kids that the one thing they don’t want to do is turn their backs to run and make a high-pitched squealing noise. If they’re in a group, they should come together and back away slowly.
Report sightings by calling the conservation office’s 24-hour number at 1-877-952-7277.