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Cougars and coyote sightings common, attacks rare in Central Okanagan: WildSafeBC

A man and his dog were lunged at by a cougar earlier this week
(File photo/Black Press Media)

Wildlife has been making itself known in the Central Okanagan recently.

Cougars, coyotes and bobcats have been on the prowl. Last Sunday (Jan. 16), a cougar lunged at a man walking his dog in Mission Creek Regional Park, but it was fortunately scared off.

“For a cougar to attack a dog on a leash is quite uncommon,” says Vanessa Isnardy, WildsafeBC program manager. “Like most wildlife, they try to avoid people as much as possible. Cougar attacks on people are still very rare. We’re not their prey and we spook their prey as well. Basically, it’s good to be aware year-round because if it’s not coyotes and cats it’s going to be bears. When you’re out there using nature trails be aware and in tune with what’s happening on the landscape. Always keep your pets on a leash. Most dogs do not have very good recall when it comes to seeing wildlife, the instinct to chase is so strong. That leads to a lot of conflicts between our pets and wildlife.”

Read More: Cougar lunges at man and dog in Mission Creek Regional Park

It’s also mating season for coyotes.

“Right now we’re heading into a period where coyotes are going to be a little bit more frisky and active,” adds Isnardy.

Coyotes mate from late January to mid-March and will produce an average of five pups in April to mid-May. Much like coyotes, cougars are active year-round. The big cats can travel long distances, up to 50 km in one day. Young cougars, especially males, will venture out on their own trying to find new habitats and home ranges. Sometimes they venture on the edges of human-dominated landscapes and may prey on free-ranging pets or young livestock. Their primary prey is deer and they will sometimes follow deer in areas where they over-winter, such as valley bottoms.

If you find yourself staring down a cougar or coyote, Isnardy says there are several things you can do to scare them off.

“You want to make yourself look as big as possible,” she says. “You want to let that cougar know that first of all you’re not a deer. Don’t turn your back because that makes you look more susceptible (to attack). Stand your ground, and don’t run. Open up your jacket and put your arms up in the air, use a deep voice and just yell at it to leave you alone. Hopefully, that will be enough that the cougar will think twice about trying to approach you.”

If a cougar, or coyote, decides to attack you, Isnardy says you are fighting for your life.

“You are going to do everything in your power, as viciously as possible to protect yourself,” she adds. “Go for the eyes or try and hit it in the ribs, and if you’re with someone you should never leave that person alone and go for help. Stay with that person and fend off that cougar. Cougars don’t want to get injured, so if they’re getting a lot of injuries there is definitely a chance you can beat off the attack, and people have been successful in fending off attacks.”

If you have small children with you, Isnardy recommends you keep them within arms reach if you are in wildlife country. Pick them up immediately if there is a threat of an attack, and if it’s an older child you can’t pick up, keep them in front of you not behind you.

“That may seem counter-intuitive, but you can’t control the situation if they are behind you and they may make a break for it and run,” says Isnardy. “It’s actually better to place the child in front of you and put your hands firmly on their shoulders and keep an eye on the situation with the two of you being large and loud. There have been less than 10 fatalities in a hundred years by cougars, and the vast majority of those have been on Vancouver Island. Again, cougar attacks on people and children are rare.”

Coyote attacks are very rare as well according to Isnardy.

“As you may be aware there was a rash of them in Stanley Park, and those were mostly people who were running and they were nipped from behind,” she adds. “Coyotes will attack deer and nip them from behind. People who are jogging in wildlife areas need to be even more vigilant. Don’t wear earbuds and be aware of your surroundings, because the act of running can trigger a chase response in a wild animal.”

More information on reducing conflict with wildlife can be found on the WildSafe B.C. website.

Read More: Wildlife society fundraising to bring rehab centre to Kelowna

Read More: ‘Never run from a coyote’: Canadians report increased sightings during pandemic


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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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