Saanich residents needn’t be overly concerned regarding the recent sightings of cougars in the Prospect Lake area.
Wildlife conservation officer Peter Pauwels, who is based out of Langford, said he is aware that cougars pass through the Prospect Lake area. However, he does find it troubling that there have been recent sightings reported at Wain Road and Tatlow Road in North Saanich.
A cougar was also hit and killed on the Malahat last week, which happens a few times a year.
“Near Prospect Lake, that doesn’t surprise me, they are known to pass through there,” Pauwels said. “North Saanich though, that one we would like to keep track of the sightings and try to keep track of the cougar there.”
The Island’s cougar population is estimated at 800 but Pauwels said there is no solid estimate for the number of animals on the South Island.
Sightings are up this year which falls in line with the cyclical fluctuation in the population of cougars. Many of the sightings are of young adult cougars nearing human habitats in search of a territory for themselves. Of course, cougar sightings are always up in the summer, when the nocturnal hunters are witnessed early in the morning and before nightfall, he said.
Even with the additional sightings there have been no pets or livestock reported missing from the South Island, which is good news for the cougar stock.
Pauwels also said that reporting a cougar sighting in a rural area isn’t necessary.
“Reporting a sighting depends on the area,” Pauwels said. “If it’s rural and it’s not causing a problem, we don’t necessarily need to know about it.”
On the other hand, conservation officers rely on reports of urban sightings. One of those urban sightings was the cougar which found its way to James Bay in the fall of 2015. That animal was later sighted on other parts of the South Island. It was caught and tagged on its ear, and was able to be released because it never attacked anyone or any pets during its week-long journey through Oak Bay and Victoria.
Other than the James Bay cougar, and one that was relocated from Florence Lake, there are no cougars being tracked on the South Island, yet.
“There aren’t any with radio collars or GPS right now,” Pauwels said.
Pauwels reminds people to be assertive when they are out hiking and to remember that if you see a cougar, it isn’t hunting you.
“They stalk, so you wouldn’t run into one if it was hunting you,” he said. “Keep watching them and back up to where you came, slowly, or back up to a safe place. Never turn your back, and pick up kids or pets if they’re near you.”
If you see a cougar or witness a cougar conflict, call 1-800-663-9453.