Cougar sightings have risen this year compared to last. (THE NEWS/files)

Cougar sightings have risen this year compared to last. (THE NEWS/files)

Busy year for cougars in Maple Ridge

Sightings in North Fraser Zone up from last year

More calls about cougars are coming into the Conservation Officer Service’s North Fraser zone this year compared to last.

For the 2017-18 fiscal year, there were 242 calls about cougar sightings, conservation officer Todd Hunter said Wednesday, including several in Maple Ridge on Tuesday.

This year alone, starting in April to present, there’s already been half that total in the North Fraser zone.

“We’re only a few months in and we’ve got 105 already.”

During the 2015-16 period, 135 cougar sightings were reported for the zone.

Early Tuesday, three people reported seeing cougars in northeast Maple Ridge.

Another was spotted around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in the 12000-block of 233rd Street.

In Maple Ridge, starting this April, there have been 31 reports of cougar sightings.

Hunter said cougar numbers fluctuate, based on the amount of prey available. Recent years have seen a strong deer population, although those numbers are starting to decline.

However, predator numbers have yet to follow suit.

Long hot, dry spells also brings out cougars because it’s more difficult for them to catch their usual prey, because of greater difficulty in catching a scent or prey are not moving around as much.

With lots of apex predators looking for an easy meal, Hunter reiterated his request for people to keep their yards and farms free from potential food sources. Even garbage or pet or bird feed can attract cougars, because they follow smaller game, such as raccoons, rabbits or coyotes, who are going to houses for food.

He urges people to follow the guidelines in Wildsafe B.C. that makes suggestions for discouraging animals, such as installing an electric fence around the perimeter of a property or paddock.

Hunter said Maple Ridge remains a constant focus for the conservation service because of the number of new residents who may not be familiar with the area, and because of new homes fronting forests.

Conservation officers can help people organize their properties to discourage cougars. Then “we’re not getting the call-backs,” said Hunter.

People also should be aware when they’re on the trails. The Kanaka Creek and 256th Street area in Maple Ridge offers travel corridors for the cats.

Hikers shouldn’t go out alone and should carry a walking stick and bear spray.

Cougars usually take off if they hear a loud group. On the other hand, cougars are curious and attracted by noise and movement. They could wait by trail side and stalk hikers or mountain bikers.

If people encounter a cougar while hiking, they should back away slowly, make themselves large by putting their arms in the air, and shout commands, telling it to go away.

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