Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen) Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)

Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Nature always has a way of coming into balance.

For a time, deer and cougars roamed Vancouver Island in relatively dense populations. Cougar populations are closely interconnected with their prey, as deer provide a vital source of food for the carnivores.

Up until the late 1970s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the ‘90s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land.

Provincial large carnivore specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have also impacted cougar density on the Island, as they had less to eat, and wolves will tend to eat some cougar cubs. Mowat highlighted that the Sunshine Coast, a similar habitat to the Island, is home to both wolves and cougars, and has never seen the highs in deer populations that the Island saw in the 1980s.

“We have nowhere near as good of data on cougars here, as compared to somewhere like Yellowstone, but I think it is fair to say that as wolves recovered on Vancouver Island there was some competition with cougars,” said Mowat. “The trend in cougar numbers is down to something like a third of what it was before. My guess is that it’s a competitive effect with wolves.”

RELATED: Co-existence with cougars possible

Mowat said as more wolves started appearing and deer populations declined, more cougars found themselves with inadequate food and were getting into conflicts with people. Since the 1990s, deer density has not recovered compared to where it was.

“Now populations may have balanced off. I haven’t heard about cougars attacking people on Vancouver Island for years,” said Mowat. “The attacks in the ‘80s and ‘90s could have been more food driven on the cougars’ part.”

Cougars need a territory of about 10 square kilometres, and during breeding season a male’s territory may increase two or three times in size while they search for a mate.

“They don’t just wander randomly, they are very territorial,” said Mowat. “Adult males will kill or injure young males that wander through searching for their own territory. Females have a home range, but you don’t hear as much about them trying to dissuade other cougars from entering their territory.”

Cougars are a solitary, nocturnal animal who eat almost any prey they can capture. Most of the Island’s population appear reddish brown in colour and a fully grown male will weigh about 70 kg. Mowat said cougars, as well as other predators, play an important role in an ecosystem, as they limit herbivore foraging on plants and young trees, and control the smaller mammal population.

Mowat noted that the biggest impact on cougar populations overall, however, has been due to human development.

“A parking lot is not a good habitat for virtually any animal,” said Mowat. “We need to think about better ways of living together with cougars, because when there is a conflict with a cougar, it usually ends up being killed.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

READ ALSO: B.C. man rescues dog that was trapped for 43 hours inside hidden well


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

 

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Just Posted

First responders on scene at Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh School south of Nanaimo on Thursday afternoon. (Karl Yu/The News Bulletin)
One child airlifted after quad accident at Nanaimo district school

First responders called to Qwam Qwum Stuwixwulh School at around 3:30 p.m.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

B.C. Centre for Disease Control reports 65 new cases in Oceanside health area April 4-10

A nearly four-hour standoff at an apartment complex on Cowichan Lake Road in Duncan ended peacefully on Wednesday, April 14. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Police standoff at Duncan apartment ends peacefully

Officers surround building as homeowner held in apartment for nearly four hours by adult son

Pacific Institution in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media file photo)
Inmate with ties to Victoria dies in Abbotsford institution

Brodie Bingley, who was sentenced for aggravated assault in Maple Ridge died April 13

Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 91, is disappointed the Legion does not qualify for COVID financial assistance from the provincial government. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C.’s pandemic aid package passing Legion branches by

Federal non-profit status stymies provincial assistance eligibility

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Top doctor warns B.C.’s daily cases could reach 3,000 as COVID hospitalizations surge

There are more than 400 people in hospital, with 125 of them in ICU

The Baynes Sound Connector leaves Denman Island en route to Buckley Bay. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Baynes Sound Connector undergoing upgrades

The MV Quinitsa is providing service between Buckley Bay and Denman Island

The father of Aaliyah Rosa planted a tree and laid a plaque in her memory in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)
Final witness will extend Langley child murder trial into May or June

Lengthy trial began last autumn with COVID and other factors forcing it to take longer than expected

The corner of 96th Avenue and Glover Road in Fort Langley now has traffic signals, and new “touchless” signal activation buttons. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Busy Fort Langley intersection gets ‘touchless’ crosswalk signals

The new traffic light started operation in April

A crossing guard stops traffic as students wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 arrive at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. A number of schools in the Fraser Health region, including Woodward Hill, have reported cases of the B.1.7.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID-infected students in Lower Mainland schools transmitting to 1 to 2 others: data

Eight to 13 per cent of COVID cases among students in the Lower Mainland were acquired in schools, B.C. says

Latest modelling by public health shows cases generated by COVID-19 infections into places where it can spread quickly. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
Industrial sites, pubs, restaurants driving COVID-19 spread in B.C.

Infection risk higher in offices, retail, warehouses, farms

Quatse, the abandoned sea otter pup who was rescued in Port Hardy. (Marine Mammal Rescue Centre photo)
Quatse the sea otter pup continues to recover in treatment

Quatse’s last “pupdate” was on March 31, where it was noted she is “doing well and gaining weight.”

Hwy. 4 was shut down in both directions for 10 hours on March 23 as a rock bluff was blasted as part of Kennedy Hill’s ongoing construction. Commuters can expect five more 10 hour closures on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning April 28. (Photo courtesy of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)
Five 10-hour Pacific Rim highway closures planned in the next 6 weeks

Closures needed for rock blasting as part of the Kennedy Hill Safety Improvement project.

Most Read