The City of Pitt Meadows put out a warning Wednesday after big cat seen in Cottonwood Park in the western part of the city. (Contributed)

The City of Pitt Meadows put out a warning Wednesday after big cat seen in Cottonwood Park in the western part of the city. (Contributed)

Cougar seen in Pitt Meadows ‘could be anywhere’

Spotted Wednesday, but WildSafeBC coordinator hasn’t heard of further sightings

The cougar that showed up in Pitt Meadows Cottonwood Park on Aug. 1, has slinked away, and hasn’t been seen again.

Dan Mikolay, coordinator of Maple Ridge’s WildsafeBC program, said he hasn’t heard of any more sightings and that cougars move around a lot.

“They have such a wide range, that cougar could be anywhere.”

This year, cougars also have been spotted in east Maple Ridge in the Websters Corners area, a common location for sightings.

Basic advice when encountering a cougar is to stay calm and keep the cougar in view with direct eye contact. Pick up children and back away slowly.

But Mikolay wanted parents to know when they’re walking or hiking, that children should be in front of adults, not behind or beside them. Cougars stalk their prey from behind and could easily grab a child if the parents don’t see it.

Keeping children in front also reassures kids and allows adults to keep a direct eye on the animal.

“If a child is behind, that’s where cougars come from, they attack from behind. You actually put your child in more danger,” Mikolay said.

“That’s why you want to face it head on and intimidate it, because a cougar is a predator. If it feels threatened or you could hurt it, and if it gets hurt, it will die. So it would rather not confront, unless it’s a last resort,” Mikolay said.

It’s rare that a cougar will attack people, who are down on its prey list.

“They don’t want to get into a battle. They want those easy kills, like a deer.”

Usually it’s a sick, old, or very young cougar who can’t hunt yet, that could attack people, he added.

Anyone who does see a cougar or bear should call a conversation officer, which doesn’t mean he or she will arrive on scene and shoot the animal, said Mikolay. But getting such calls does allow officers to track the animals and find out behaviour patterns and whether they’re following unnatural food attractants.

“So I’m enouraging residents, if they see a cougar … to call the RAPP line, (1-877-952-7277) just so they can track the location of the cougar. It doesn’t mean they’re going to destroy it or anything like that. They just need to know where it’s at.”

Other tips when encountering a cougar are to:

• Make yourself look as large as possible and keep the cougar in front of you at all times. Never run or turn your back on a cougar, sudden movement may provoke an attack.

• If a cougar shows interest or follows you, respond aggressively, maintain eye contact with the cougar, show your teeth and make loud noise. Arm yourself with rocks or sticks.

• If a cougar attacks, fight back, convince the cougar you are a threat and not prey, use anything you can as a weapon. Focus your attack on the cougar’s face and eyes. Use rocks, sticks, bear spray or personal belongings as weapons. You are trying to convince the cougar that you are a threat, and are not prey.

Mikolay said it’s been a normal year for bear conflicts in the Maple Ridge area. Maple Ridge changed its bylaw in 2013 requiring residents in certain areas not to put their garbage out at curbside until 5 a.m. of pickup day in order to reduce the amount tantalizing garbage at night for bears.

He estimates the number of cans set outside overhead has been cut in half, which reduces the number of bear encounters. But one bear was seen in the Albion area around 244th Street, early Wednesday. It’s been described as food conditioned, by the Conservation Officer Service.

In 2016, there were 355 calls about bears from April 1 to Oct. 15.

During the same time period in 2017, there were 629 calls.

But that doesn’t mean there were more bears in the area, but that more people are calling when they see them.

“It seems to be a relatively normal year for bears,” said Mikolay.

Maple Ridge continues to work towards meeting standards of becoming a Bear Smart community, meaning it would join Coquitlam as a city with that designation.

The designation shows that wildlife is respected within the city, he added.

“It’s basically saying that Maple Ridge has taken the steps to reduce conflict, keep our wildlife wild and our communities safe.”

• WildSafeBC is hosting an information session Sunday, Sept. 16 in Albion Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone can drop by and learn all about to deal with bears and cougars.