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Whistler's bear man turns attention to cougars



Two men are following the footsteps of cougars this winter, armed with video cameras.

"People around Princeton think we're nuts," said Michael Allen, Whistler's foremost black bear researcher turned cougar enthusiast.

The pair is made up of Allen and his friend Jeff Turner, a film producer who, with his wife Sue, specializes in wildlife documentaries for the BBC.

The Turners met Allen about four years ago while making a documentary about Whistler's black bears called In the Company of Bears.

"We've shared a common interest in wildlife education in B.C.," said Allen.

Now they want to teach people about cougars and dispel the myth that cougars are vicious predators who randomly attack humans at will.

"A lot of the books and the Internet are all sensationalized on the attacks," said Allen.

"The goal of the film is to try to represent the animals in an unbiased way."

For the past three months, the duo has had their heads bent downwards on their snowmobiles, studying the snow near Princeton B.C. in search of cougar tracks.

This area is a low-lying valley where the deer come to feed and the cougars come to prey on deer. Allen describes it as "the heart of cougar country."

It was near here where Cindy Parolin was mauled to death by a yearling cougar in 1996 after it attacked her young son.

But cougar attacks are rare, said Allen, although they generate media frenzy.

Over the last 100 years there have been about 10 fatal cougar attacks in the province, most involving young children.

"They always need protein. That's kind of their downfall. That's what makes them so fierce when there's an attack," said Allen.

Cougars need meat because they are obligate carnivores – they cannot survive without it.

"They're probably the most effective land carnivore in North America," said Allen.

"They're all muscle and all claws and their teeth are designed for shearing and tearing meat.

"They're built to rip you apart."

A cougar will ambush its prey after stalking it and will head straight for the jugular or the spine of the animal. They use their sharp canine teeth to puncture the important organs.

Most of the time they can take down an animal that is bigger than them because of their sheer power.

Cougars will usually attack humans when the deer counts are low and they're starving. Then they have no other course of action but to wander into communities in search of food, generally looking for cats or dogs. Usually the cougar is a yearling (between one or two years old) that is in search of a home range after becoming independent of its mother.

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