KAMLOOPS — In British Columbia, Cougars are considered an apex predator, and certainly have the strength to take down prey as big as elk, and moose. Quite often, the big cats are maligned when it comes to interaction with people, and the domestic animals and livestock we keep; one local Conservation Officer is hoping to chance the perception of cougars in the wild, as well as show CFJC Today one of the many tools the service has when it comes to dealing with big cats.
Since 1949, there have been six fatal cougars attacks in British Columbia. Of those, four of the attacks occurred on Vancouver Island, while just two took place in the Southern Interior. According to Conservation Officer Kevin Van Damme, anytime a cougar is spotted in or near the city of Kamloops, residents tend to overreact.
“The folks in Kamloops need to understand that cougars, pretty much every night throughout the whole year may come through somebody’s property within the city limits,” Van Damme explained.
Due to where the city is situated geographically, interactions between cougars and people are bound to happen in the city. So when they do, Van Damme and his fellow Conservation Officers have several tools available to them to mitigate the harm these interactions can cause, including a K-9 team which has only been around for a few years.
“In 2013 we started a pilot program, where the Conservation Officer Service instead in the [dogs],” Van Damme says. “The big thing for us it’s a tool to assist us when we do have to make a response to one of these cougar issues.”
Van Damme is the lead handler for one of the teams in the province and has over two decades of training and handling hounds. He says they serve a dual purpose when it comes to helping minimize the risks to the public.
“We can use the dogs to verify there was a cougar in the area, then also they can track down the cougar,” he explained.
According to Van Damme, this year is pretty average when it comes to the number of sightings and calls for service his office has received - but because that information is shared so readily these days, those sightings can be blown out of proportion.
“We get about 120 to 150 calls every year,” Van Damme says, “There’s been some things that have hit social media and certainly generated a lot more interest.”
Van Damme says if you do cross paths with the elusive cats, you could consider yourself lucky - while remaining cautious
“These animals shouldn’t be feared,” Van Damme told CFJC Today. “If you do see one, consider yourself very fortunate. If one is maybe following you, or close proximity to you, give it space. Be big and be vocal, then back out of the area.”
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