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Living with Wildlife

Are you attracting Cougars?

The Living with Wildlife column is published monthly in the Rocky Mountain Outlook to create awareness of living with wildlife challenges. We also work with local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote wildlife safety issues through the media on a weekly basis.

Cougars are active predators in the Bow Valley. Many cougar sightings, tracks, and confirmed cougar kills have been found over the past few years in and around town. Very recently, remains of a cougar-killed deer were removed near Silver Tip road, and cougar sightings were reported in the Benchlands trail and Eagle Heights area. Sightings of these large predators in and around Canmore seem to be happening more frequently, at any time of the day or night, during any day of the year. Considering this level of activity, residents need to be made aware of the responsibilities and potential dangers of living in cougar habitat.

Cougar sightings and encounters are rare; in most cases the cougar will sense people and leave the immediate area without being seen. However, human vs. cougar conflicts are increasing as the human population expands into cougar habitat. More and more people are living, working, and recreating in cougar habitat.

In addition to people entering cougar habitat, cougars are entering ‘people-habitat’. Disturbed areas are generally replanted with grasses and vegetation which contain more nutrients. This vegetation may tempt ungulates such as deer and elk into living much closer to people and residential areas than they normally would. These same ungulates are a natural prey species for cougars, which in turn brings these large predators in closer to the urbanized valley bottom. Now, if we were following a recipe, what ingredient could possibly be added to bring this mix a step closer to an unhealthy, potentially disastrous encounter? Some people are BAITING, to view these prey species even closer and for longer periods of time.

You can keep help keep major prey species such as deer and elk in the wild by removing attractants such as hay bales, food pellets or salt blocks. Otherwise, a cougar following these prey species into town might become habituated to humans and might start hunting in residential areas. At best, the cougar will have to be relocated away from residential areas. If the cougar demonstrates habituated behaviours, it might have to be destroyed.

Cougars are an elusive, quiet, unpredictable and very efficient predator. Their primary food source is deer, but they will also hunt elk, moose, sheep, grouse and rabbits. As opportunists, cougars will occasionally hunt livestock as well as roaming pets, including cats and dogs left outside, especially at night. Please feed your pets indoors and never leave pet food outside. Walk your dog during the day and keep your pet on a leash at all times. Because of their small size, children are at a high risk of being attacked by cougars. Children should be kept close and supervised by an adult when outdoors.

Can we really live with cougars so close in the Bow Valley?
Many of us already do. We can live very near cougars and never see them, hear them, or know that they are there. The presence of a cougar in the area does not necessarily constitute a threat to public safety. Cougar attacks are rare; however, sightings and encounters are increasing in the Bow Valley as cougars come into contact with increased numbers of people and pets. “Prevention” is the most effective way to minimize cougar encounters.

What can you do to help prevent an attack?

  • Do not hike, bike or jog alone.
  • Avoid hiking or jogging when Cougars are most active; dawn, dusk and at night.
  • Keep a close watch on small children.
  • Carry pepper spray within easy reach.
  • Keep pets close by, don’t leave pets outdoors.
  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times.

If you encounter a Cougar, try to give it room to easily escape.

  • Never turn your back on a Cougar.
  • Never run from a Cougar.
  • Make yourself look big, raise your arms.
  • Look the Cougar in the eyes.
  • Pick up small children.
  • Back away slowly if the opportunity presents itself.

If you are attacked by a Cougar, Fight Back, with anything and everything you can.

If you see a cougar or fresh signs of activity, please call Kananaskis Emergency Services at 403-591-7755.

Thank you to our sponsors whose generosity has made WildSmart a reality.

Residents are encouraged to report any Bow Valley sightings of bear, cougar or aggressive elk to 403-591-7755. For sightings in Banff National Park, call 403-762-1470. For all public safety emergencies call 9-1-1.

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