The Conservation Officer Service (COS) euthanized a cougar on Friday, July 12 following a rash of sightings in Whistler and reports of several missing house cats.
Conservation Officer Brittany Mueller said the COS had received approximately 20 reports of the cougar in the last four weeks in and around the Alpine, Rainbow and Emerald neighbourhoods. There have also been reports of a cougar in the Whistler Mountain Bike Park, although the COS was unable to confirm if it was the same cat.
Typically an elusive animal, it’s unusual for a cougar to display the kind of habituated behaviour this adult female did, Mueller said, adding that it had been spotted sleeping on patios and was seen in residential backyards close to nearby children. There have also been reports of several domesticated cats going missing from the same area in recent days.
“The cougar was living in a high-use area right on Rainbow Drive, and was indifferent to human presence, even when it was hazed. It’s abnormal behaviour right away,” Mueller said.
The COS had hoped that the cougar would “move off” from the area on its own after reports starting coming in last month. Mueller said it’s been 15 years “since the COS has had to (destroy) a cougar in Whistler for public safety."
It’s unclear exactly what led to the cougar’s concerning behaviour. Unlike bears, cougars are not usually attracted to garbage or other human food sources and don’t tend to spend long periods in populated areas. Cougars use “large green spaces to travel large areas,” Mueller said, who added that it’s possible the female was pushed out of more desirable terrain by a larger tomcat.
In the event of a cougar encounter, the COS advises to remain calm, make yourself look as big as possible and back away slowly while maintaining eye contact.
“You really don’t want to make it feel comfortable,” Mueller said. “We want to be a threat to that animal, but sometimes these animals, over time, develop these behaviours and it slowly starts to escalate and that’s what happened over the past four weeks.”