It was troubling to read local reactions to recent cougar encounters ("Two cougars kill Squamish family's cat," Chief, Sept. 2). The Chief reported on a resident, Enzo Milia, expressing worries about a cougar killing his family's cat. The paper noted:
"'There was nothing left of the cat,' he [Milia] said. Much to Milia's surprise, he said the conservation officer did not go after the cougars... 'I am certainly alarmed because of the danger here,' he saidMilia said he's worried the next meal the cougars snag could be something even more precious than a family pet. 'If it went for my cat, why won't it go for a young child?' he said."
While I am sympathetic to Mr. Milia's concerns, let's put this incident in perspective. Developers ploughed a subdivision into cougar habitat, then residents allowed their cats to roam outside to essentially serve as cougar bait, inadvertently lured cougars into their neighbourhood, and then blame the cougar. Permitting domestic cats outside - especially where there are cougars, bears, and coyotes about - puts companion animals at risk, entices predators into residential areas in search of a meal, and increases the chances of conflict with predators who acquire an appetite for Fluffy.
There are many reasons to keep cats indoors. Cats who roam outside face a host of dangers, including predation, getting hit by cars, attacks by dogs, contracting fatal disease such as rabies or feline immunodeficiency virus, getting lost, stolen, or poisoned or suffering during severe weather conditions. Outdoor cats lead considerably shorter lives on average than cats kept indoors. And according to the American Bird Conservancy, domestic and feral cats are wreaking havoc on natural ecosystems and biological diversity. The bird organization notes "every year in the United States alone, cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals, including rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks." The group found that one of the leading causes of mortality for songbirds was death by cats.
Cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare. One has a greater chance of being hit by lightning than attacked by a cougar. Rather than pointing the finger at cougars who live among us largely without incident, we can take the following steps to safeguard our community, companion animals, and wild neighbours:
Don't feed wildlife. Predators follow prey.
Don't leave pet food outside. Leaving food outside may attract cougars.
Keep your companion animals indoors or secure them in a covered run. If you permit your dog or cat to roam, you are risking their lives - just as city dwellers take a risk in letting their companion animals play near a busy street.
Protect, fence, and shelter domestic farm and ranch animals.
Install frightening devices. Cougars depend on surprise to catch their prey. Installing motion or timer-activated outdoor lighting around your home and animal enclosures may keep cougars away. Also, try loud noises, sprinklers or other frightening devices, such as those used to keep birds out of fields.
Landscape wisely. Deer-proof your yard. Prune dense vegetation where cougars can hide.
Recreate responsibly. Be aware of your surroundings. Consider hiking, biking, and running with others when you're in cougar country. Avoid hiking, biking, and running at dawn and dusk.
Protect your family. Supervise children, especially outdoors between dusk and dawn. Educate them - without instilling an unnecessary sense of fear - about cougars and other wildlife they might encounter. Teaching children to respect and revere wildlife will help them avoid conflicts while appreciating and enjoying the wonders of nature.
Don't approach a cougar. Most cougars want to avoid humans. Give them the space and time to steer clear of you.
Never run past or from a cougar since running may trigger their instinct to chase.Brian VincentSquamish