A motion camera Gordon Peachey slung over his back fence came back with some footage of a couple magnificent beasts. (IMAGE CREDIT: GORDON PEACHEY)

Keep your eyes open for cougars

It was the most beautiful, and deadly, beast that I’ve ever seen close up

It’s stunning to learn that there were 40 calls for conservation officers to deal with cougars in 2018 just in North Cowichan alone.

That’s the statistics provided to the municipality by WildSafeBC in an effort to convince the Municipality of North Cowichan to participate in a program that would bring in a wildlife specialist to teach people how to avoid human-wildlife conflicts.

In all, there were more than 190 calls last year from North Cowichan residents reporting conflicts with wildlife; with 62 having to do with black bears and 66 involving deer.

But it’s the interactions with cougars that interests me.

I’ve been fascinated with big cats since I had the privilege to deal with some when I worked with veterinarians in Toronto many years ago.

One day, a guy from an exotic animal enclosure came in with an eight-week-old black panther that had a nail jammed up one of its front paws.

The cat was sedated, for everyone’s protection, when it was brought in to the clinic and it gave me the opportunity to take a close look at the animal.

I gently picked up the front paw without the nail in it and inspected its claws, which stuck out on the young cat even after being cut back so that the animal wouldn’t tear up everything it came in contact with; including its trainers.

It was the most beautiful, and deadly, beast that I’ve ever seen close up.

It was easy to tell that the cat was designed to be a complete predator, and even this kitten could do some severe damage to anyone or anything that it had a mind to.

The panther was lithe and muscular, with large white teeth and I could only imagine the impression it would make if you met a full-grown one in the wild.

I’ve suffered many wounds in the clinic from just nine-pound house cats that decided that they had enough of the poking and prodding by complete strangers.

I used to find it preferable to deal with a nasty 100-pound German shepherd than an uptight house cat, so I can only imagine what it would be like to face down a 150-pound cougar in its natural environment.

I recall an old Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a lion casually flicks out its paw and instantly cleaves Elmer Fudd into five equal parts and I imagine that could be the outcome of a meeting between a cougar and a human if the big cat wanted it that way.

With Vancouver Island having the largest concentration of cougars anywhere in the world, I guess it shouldn’t be hard to believe that there were 40 encounters with them last year in North Cowichan alone.

It’s said that if you encounter a cougar, keep calm, make yourself look as large as possible and back away slowly, keeping the cougar in view, and allowing a clear exit for the animal.

That may be easier said than done for most as I expect the desire to turn and run away as fast as you can when confronted with such an intimidating animal would be overwhelming.

I think it’s a good idea that North Cowichan’s council has decided to invest $3,000 in educating its residents on ways to reduce conflicts with wildlife.

Getting a close up look in the wild of one of these magnificent and dangerous big cats may be a little more than you bargained for.

(Robert Barron is a reporter with the Cowichan Valley Citizen. He can be reached at Robert.Barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com).

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