This spring seems to have really drawn out not only the humans, but lots of the large animals that live among us into places where we also like to roam. The number of cougar and black bear sightings near Comox Lake, in the Cumberland Community Forest and in other areas around the Comox Valley is quite high right now. Even though it’s been raining for a week, we are sure to be hitting the hills soon enough and I figured it was time to remind all of us how important it is to take precautions when we are out on the trail this year.
A while back, Senior Conservation Officer Dan Dwyer gave us a call to talk shop about cougar and bear safety in the forest and on the beaches.
Always positive and enthusiastic, Dan dispelled many mis-conceived notions about running into these guys. Hopefully, I can convey all of his wisdom appropriately here and help all of you get the most out of this time of year outside.
Let’s first get through the scary details. There are two realities about Vancouver Island:
1. The cougar population on Vancouver Island is the most dense in North America, and the number of cougar attacks on people reflects that. When I asked Dan if there were any hot spots for cougar activity, his response was a firm “They are everywhere, literally.” He used the example of a cougar finding its way into the parking lot of Victoria’s Empress Hotel a few years ago and said, “If a cougar can find his way there, they can definitely find their way onto a hiking path or even your backyard.” There are generally around 1,000 reported cougar sitings on the island each year. So, knowing what to do in the event you spot a cougar is pretty much mandatory around these parts.
2. The beautiful black bear is only slightly less prominent, and often far more likely to come down into populated areas scavenging for food. Looks like bear safety should be right up there on the list too.
Now, the good news.
Bear and cougar spottings are, in fact, rare. So rare that wilderness professionals who spend decades in the bush log only a few encounters that are almost always peaceful.
Hot, dry spells are often the times when cougars are most active. They hunt on scent, which evaporates more quickly in the heat. So, they have to hunt longer and farther, leading them to places they would not normally hang out.
Cougars are interested in deer, raccoons and can be inclined to stalking our pets. They tend to be curious, Dan said, and rarely stalk humans. He likens them to our house cats in that they tend to sleep during the day, get up out of curiosity to see what is happening, and then go back to sleep as they are most often prowling at night as well as right at sunrise and dusk.
So, tip #1 – hike with your family at mid-day for optimum safety.
Tip #2 – Keep your children as close to you as possible and NEVER let them wander off on their own. Do not let them run farther than you can see on the trail and when you have stopped, don’t let them hang out where you can’t see them – even if that is close but behind you. Dan reminds us that you never know what is coming up around the next bend. If a cougar has just killed a deer or is hunting one on the trail and your child comes around the bend, you put your child at serious risk. Children often mimic behavior of cougar prey and can be mistaken for prey if they are prone and without supervision.
If you do happen to come across a cougar, Dan has these recommendations:
Tip #3 – Don’t run (and talk through this firmly with your children in advance, reminding them while you are on the trail). Running triggers an attack response in cougars and is pretty much the most dangerous thing you can do in this situation.
Tip #4 – Make noise, stand up, wave your arms, make yourself as big as possible. If a cougar thinks you are going to fight back, it will more than likely back up. The same goes for your children, although they should not be placed in a position between you and the cougar.
Tip #5 – Give each of your children a whistle to wear around their necks and instruct them that it is to be used only in emergency situations. This helps alert you and the noise could frighten the cougar off.
Tip #6 – If you come across a bear or a cougar, consider immediately changing your route or heading back to the trail head. I, for one, would not be too excited about a long summer hike knowing one of those guys is hanging out in the vicinity.
Tip #7 – A cell phone can be helpful. But, don’t use it in place of telling someone where you are going and when you are coming home. Cell phone range is questionable on trails at best. Also, if you do take one, leave it off as a courtesy to yourself and other hikers.
Tip #8 – Talk long and often to your kids about the above safety tips. That means talk through safety rules EVERY time you head out into the forest, and be consistent in terms of enforcing them. Preparing your kids is the best way to keep them safe.
Finally, understand that having the opportunity to view wildlife such as bears and cougars is the chance of a lifetime and a really incredible experience and should ultimately be viewed as such.
After all that fun, always make sure to report cougar or bear sitings to Conservation Officers by calling the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-663-9453, so that the conservation officers can see where the animals are moving amongst people and work for safety.
Need a hands-on guide or a bit more info still?
About the Author (Author Profile)Robin Rivers is Our Big Earth’s Publisher and Sr. Partner. Able to survive on coffee alone. Often can be found leaping tall buildings with the help of great friends. Predisposed to odd hats and the color orange. In love with imagination, her kids and that crazy guy who married her.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Forest Safety (Bears and Cougars) | Playing With Sticks | July 14, 2012