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Big cats, bigger opportunity

"Another embarrassment for Canada. We go around the world attempting to 'do what is right,' yet at home we are Neanderthals. Killing animals. Killing the environment.

"Another embarrassment for Canada. We go around the world attempting to 'do what is right,' yet at home we are Neanderthals. Killing animals. Killing the environment."

"Give me a break, these are not cute kitties, these cats are predators, and when they start getting real comfortable inside town, and stalking humans, it's time for decisive action."

"Killing these beautiful creatures is a tragedy."

"I'd side with humans and protecting kids than to take the sanctimonious false moral high ground that many of the animal lovers take."

"This story leaves me squeamish."

"What's a couple of killer cougars when we slaughter billions of animals to feed our faces?"


Those were just a few samples of hundreds of responses on a CBC blog after the news went national that three cougars were killed by conservation officers in Squamish.

For the most part, the prevailing opinion expressed by wildlife management representatives is that shooting "problem" cougars is the only practical option. Relocation won't work because they could compete with, or scare off, existing resident cougars and there are few areas where the animals would not pose a threat to the public.

As well, transferring the big cats to uninhabited areas is more expensive and requires more planning. Despite these assertions, some jurisdictions have undertaken successful cougar relocation programs.

Recently members of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game tranquilized and removed a young male cougar to a remote area after it tangled with two dogs in a developed neighbourhood.

And a year ago, after a cougar invaded a local Seattle park, wildlife officials tranquilized and transported it to the wilderness in eastern Snohomish County. It was fitted with a tracking collar and appears to have acclimated to its new surroundings. According to one wildlife official, the project bodes well for the cougars' long-term prospects, "both from biological and sociological standpoints."

Another cougar was captured in Kent, Wash., after it was treed in a heavily populated neighbourhood by a property owner's dog. After the cougar was tranquilized, ear tagged, and radio collared, it was relocated to an undisclosed location in the Cascade Mountain range.

That's not to suggest the tranquilizing and relocation route is fool proof. The sedative takes five to 10 minutes to kick in, so it does not act as an immediate deterrent in a human/cougar confrontation. But there may be other non-lethal technologies that could be explored.

In November 2009 a local chapter of Big Wildlife, an Oregon-based cougar and bear advocacy group, received a hefty donation from Mountain Equipment Co-Op to make Squamish residents more aware of the hazards to flora and fauna presented by the proposed Garibaldi at Squamish resort.

Big Wildlife's website touts the organization as "wildlife's top public relations firm... the big voice for those unable to speak for themselves." They lay claim to being "dynamic, gutsy, and visionary" by combining "innovative media strategies with nuts and bolts grassroots organizing."

So far, aside from a few Letters to the Editor, we have heard very little from local environmental watchdogs about solving our cougar conundrum. It's time to speak up, folks. By bringing all the stakeholders together, Squamish now has an opportunity to become a national leader in problem wildlife management.

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