Conservation officers are warning residents about a cougar in east Maple Ridge after a chicken coop was raided early Saturday.
“There were feathers everywhere, and chickens dead, and my ‘Tom Turkey’ was gone,” said Naomi Frost, who lives on acreage off 123rd Avenue.
“I had a little cry.”
Sgt. Todd Hunter of the Conservation Officer Service in Maple Ridge said tracks, bite marks and other signs left in the area confirmed it was a cougar.
Eighteen chickens have been reported killed in the area. There were reports of other sightings of a cougar in the area, and Hunter said it may be the same one caught on video crossing a lawn on 240th Street last month.
Frost said she scooped up four garbage bags full of feathers, and filled in a hole where the cougar tried to dig its way into the coop. Not successful in its excavation, she thinks it jumped into the coop over the gate, in an area not completely covered by chicken wire or deer netting.
Conservation officers set leg hold traps on Saturday to try and catch the cougar, but bears frequent the area, and were after the chicken carcasses used as bait.
Frost and her husband chased a mother bear with two cubs away from one of the traps.
Later in the evening, a large male bear that they see regularly got his rear foot in one, and became agitated – jumping a fence and wrenching its paw free.
Conservation officers returned to Frost’s property and disarmed the traps, because they would more likely catch bears.
Hunter said there are poorly built chicken coops in the area, and the birds become easy prey. But that was not the case at the Frost property.
“It was up to a pretty high standard. The cougar was really determined to get in there,” he said.
It was the first time Frost has lost any of her laying hens to a predator.
Hunter explained that in hot, dry weather, a cougar is more likely to have human conflicts. Cougars hunt by sight and smell. But in the heat, a scent will dissipate quickly, making it difficult for the feline to sniff out its usual prey, which is deer. So cougars will go looking for other sources of food.
There have been reports of abnormal cougar behaviour in the area, including walking in the open during daylight hours.
Hunter advises residents to not leave dogs, cats and domestic animals outside unattended. Having adequate lighting or motion detector lights can also deter a cougar, and he said some people leave a radio on in a barn to try and frighten them away.
Hunter said conservation officers will monitor the situation, and anticipate the cougar will return to its normal hunting behaviour as the summer heat abates.
“Hopefully, it will go on to its natural cycle with a weather pattern change,” he said.
Hunter also asked people to consult city bylaws regarding chicken coops, and see Wildsafe B.C. recommendations for the best way to build them so that they do not attract predators.
An electrified wire on the perimeter is one of the best ways, he said.
He also said attaching fence lines to trees, or stapling chicken wire to trees, does little to deter predators. A clear fence line with brush cleared away, and clear sight lines is more effective.
“You’ve got to show some diligence,” he said.
Frost fears the cougar will return, and she is likely to get rid of the chickens if the cat is not caught, so that no more are killed.
“I love my chickens. They come up when I’m sitting outside, and sit on the arms of my chair.”