Cougar spotted on Menzies Street in James Bay
By Andrew Patrick
Is James Bay becoming cougar country? It’s a question many residents may be asking following the recent report of a cougar sighting in the neighborhood.
Victoria police received word that a cougar was spotted near Menzies Street on the morning of April 27. Though no additional sightings were reported at the time, and no animal was found, police urged residents to exercise caution.
The incident comes a year and a half after another cougar led a team of conservation officers, police and reporters on a dramatic chase through the 200-blocks of Superior, Ontario and Michigan Streets. That fracas eventually ended with the animal being tranquilized and relocated.
The most recent cougar report was just one of four possible sightings within three weeks in the Victoria region. On May 1 and 2, the University of Victoria received separate reports of a cougar on campus, and on May 14 Victoria police shot and killed a young cougar in Esquimalt, near Rockheights Middle School.
It is difficult to determine whether the cougar sighted in James Bay in April was the same one killed in Esquimalt, according to Mike Badry, Wildlife Conflict Manager with the provincial government.
Part of the challenge is that cougars are stealthy animals and can avoid human detection, even in large urban areas like Victoria.
“I’m sure that we’ve had cougars that have travelled through this city that probably nobody has ever seen,” Badry noted.
Badry cautioned that not all reports of cougar sightings can be verified, and noted that the Conservation Officer Service (COS) receives hundreds of such calls each year. Last year, roughly 260 cougar sightings were reported to the COS for the Victoria region alone, with 370 reported the year prior.
“It would be very difficult to know at any one time how many cougars were in the city,” he said. “But what I always tell people whenever they send me an email or something saying that they think they’ve seen cougar signs is, ‘You live in cougar country. You want to always assume that there are cougars around.’”
Vancouver Island is home to the highest density of cougars in North America, according to estimates. Despite high population numbers, cougar attacks on humans are relatively rare. Over the past 200 years across the province, there have been just over 80 reported cougar attacks and eight fatalities, Badry said.
The cougars that do end up in urban areas are often younger males who are driven out by their mothers and are searching for new territory. That journey can lead them along greenway corridors that funnel deep into the city where it can be difficult to find a way out.
Cougars in urban areas may extend their stay, if they find readily available prey such as raccoons, rabbits, rats, and household pets.
Urban deer are also an attractive target for cougars, according to Badry.
“They’re certainly a natural prey item for cougars, so any cougar that may get drawn into a community because there are urban deer, or may decide to stay in a community because there are urban deer, can increase that risk [to humans.] The longer [cougars] have the opportunity to be in that community the better chance they’re going to end up in conflict with people.”
Despite the availability of urban deer in Victoria, Badry said he was not aware of any reports of cougar-killed deer carcasses found in the area.
The City of Victoria does not keep population estimates for deer living within municipal boundaries, nor does it track annual deer mortalities from natural, unnatural or accidental causes. Oak Bay reported 36 deer mortalities in 2015, down from 37 in 2014, most of which were due to collisions with motor vehicles.
Cougar attacks are rare, but if you do encounter one, experts advise that you stay calm and back away slowly, avoiding sudden movements. If the animal continues to approach you, you should respond aggressively and loudly. In the event of an attack, fight back using everything at your disposal.
“A cougar is looking at a human being as potential prey. You can be quite certain they’ve never attacked a human before because those cougars are identified and taken out of the population very quickly,” said Badry. “So this cougar is very naïve, and probably a bit wary about what it’s trying to do, so the more you can do to dissuade it, the better off [you’ll be].”
The provincial government amended its large carnivore policy last year to discourage the relocation of cougars from urban areas as a means to manage conflicts with humans. The change may mean more conflicts in the future will end with dead cougars, but Badry noted officers still have the opportunity to tranquilize and relocate, if the conditions are right.
The young cougar that was tranquilized in James Bay in 2015 was tagged and moved outside the city, and has not been found dead or alive.
If you see a cougar, you can report it to the COS call centre at 1-877-952-7277.
Notable James Bay cougar events
- 1989 - A cougar was shot and killed inside a James Bay basement suite, after it jumped through a closed window to avoid pursuit by police and conservation officers and half a dozen hounds. The two residents hid in a closet and a closed bedroom, while the cougar tore through the apartment.
- 1992 - A cougar was tranquilized after becoming trapped in the underground parking lot at the Empress Hotel.
- 1998 - A cougar was tranquilized after entering an open door at the former Scott Plastics building on Erie Street near Fisherman's Wharf.