Monique Joyce and her dog Joey felt a little like they were on the wrong side of the fence at the zoo while out for a walk on Jan. 14 on a trail in Function Junction.
While walking in the woods near the intersection of Millar Creek Road and Alpha Lake Road, as she often does with her dog Joey, Joyce and her pet happened upon a cougar. She and the dog startled the cat after it had successfully brought down a deer.
"It was huge," she said when asked if she was certain she saw a cougar as opposed to a bobcat, which are more common in Whistler.
"The cougar decided to run up the hill," said Joyce. "We started walking backward down the trail and we wanted to see if it was going to come and get us and that's when I saw the kill."
The area where the cat was feeding was covered in blood and fur. Joyce said she couldn't tell what animal the cougar had been feeding on because she just wanted to get out of the area. Inspector Chris Doyle of the Conservation Officer Service (COS) told Joyce later that it was a deer.
Sgt. Peter Busink of the COS said Doyle checked out the area and concluded the cougar had stashed a deer kill near the trail Joyce was on with her dog.
"In a situation like this cougars have been known to defend food caches especially when they're hungry and it presents an unknown risk to the public at that point," said Busink.
He said he called the Whistler bylaw department and requested the posting of signs in the area warning of the cougar sighting. According to Busink, people should stay off the trail until at least today.
Busink said people need to be aware of the risk through the use of the trails in the central part of Function Junction just now and keep an eye out for the big cat.
"In this case the cougar is just doing what a cougar does," said Busink. "We're just letting it be.
"There isn't anything out of the ordinary," said the conservation officer. "Because it is an area of a known trail and where people walk we wanted to make sure we at least provide people with information that there is a cougar in the area."
Joyce had one final thought for the cougar that she unexpectedly met in the forest.
"I would hate to see something happen to that cougar because we were walking through its territory," said Joyce.
The COS is interested in hearing about any future sightings of large wildlife, particularly cougars. To report sightings, call the Ministry of Environment's report line at 1-877-952-7277.
Cougar Safety Tips
In case of a cougar encounter:
• Stay calm and keep the cougar in view.
• Pick up children immediately.
• Back away slowly, ensuring that the animal has a clear avenue of escape.
• Make yourself look as large as possible.
• Never run or turn your back.
• If a cougar shows interest or follows you, respond aggressively.
• Maintain eye contact, show your teeth and make loud noises.
• 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 eyes.
Cougars are not to be fed under any circumstances, or approached to take a photo. It is an offence under the Wildlife Act to feed dangerous wildlife.
Visit the website at www.env.gov.bc.ca/cos/ for more information on what to do in a wildlife encounter.