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Squamish cougars killed in weekend cull

Increased presence, lack of fear led to extermination in Garibaldi Highlands



It didn't end well for the trio of cougars frequenting the backyards and trails of Squamish's Garibaldi Highlands. Conservation officers shot all three last weekend.

"Basically it was a culmination of all the activity that we've had in the last couple of months with cougars encountering people and approaching people and in some cases stalking people and not being easily scared off from residential areas and apparently not having any concern for the presence of humans," said Chris Doyle, an inspector for the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

"Two of them were located in a backyard and destroyed and the third was subsequently tracked with tracking dogs and destroyed."

While it's too early to comment on whether the three were related, it's been speculated that the three cougars were a mother and two yearlings. The trio had been spotted regularly in the Alice Lake and Garibaldi Highlands area in recent months, prompting trail closures throughout the neighbourhood.

Unlike bears, which are attracted to human detritus, there aren't many ways to get rid of cougars from populated areas. At most, they'll be drawn by housecats, which typically hunt for mice at night, before disappearing back into the forest. The regularity with which the three cougars were appearing in Squamish neighbourhoods was cause for their demise.

"There were several incidents of concern where they were acting aggressively towards people and just becoming way too comfortable in the residential areas," said Doyle. "When one of the cougars was located it was just kind of rolling around under a trampoline in a backyard with people around - it had no concern whatsoever and not only that, some of the complaints indicated the cougars had an interest in people so there was the risk that an attack could occur."

Doyle said it's not uncommon for cougars to live around municipalities for periods of time before retreating from human activity.

"That's the kind of behaviour that can be tolerated, but it's the interest in people that's a concern," he said. "It's not a decision we take lightly and it's not something we like to do but we are mandated to protect public safety, so we have a lot of things to consider to arrive at the right decision and then deal with that decision effectively."

The last cougar shot in Squamish was in 2009. The incident occurred after three-year-old Maya Espinosa was attacked from behind while picking berries with her mother on the Squamish River. Aside from a few scratches, the toddler was unharmed due to the quick intervention of her mother.

Autopsies will be conducted on the animals to collect DNA and biological information. Preliminary exams have revealed all three cougars were in good health.