A Port Moody man got quite the shock Friday morning after a trail camera near his home captured a family of cougars minutes before he collected the footage.
In a series of photos, a mother and her three kittens are seen walking a fence line on the man’s property just before 7 a.m. Friday. Eight minutes later, the Port Moody resident, who asked not to be named, said he had pulled the camera’s SD card and sat down at his computer to see what it had captured.
“I sat down with my coffee and (nearly defecated) myself,” he told the Tri-City News, reflecting on how close he came to running into the cougar family.
It wasn’t the first time the man had captured the family of felines. In December, his camera had captured them as they moved through his property in the Ioco neighbourhood near Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre.
“They were heading up from Port Moody’s population centre into the forest,” he said. “This time, they were heading down into the population.”
So he called the BC Conservation Officer Service to report the sighting. The man said he has yet to hear back from the service, but in a call with the Tri-City News acting Sgt. Alicia Stark said spotting such a large family group was “definitely a unique situation.”
“The fact that we got these photos is really interesting to us. It helps us know where we are,” she said, adding that it’s not uncommon to see the big cats follow creeks, rivers and other bodies of water, such as the nearby Mossom Creek.
In this case, it appears the cougars were just passing through, and while their direction — towards the urban centre of Port Moody — is “certainly more of a concern than them just walking up into the forest,” acting Sgt. Stark said there have been no reports of aggressive behaviour from cougars toward people in the area.
“Right now, we’re just wanting people to be aware that they’re there,” she said. “At this time, there’s nothing that we can do other than monitor.”
COUGAR ATTACKS DOG
The trail cam sighting came two days before a cougar allegedly jumped into the path of a small dog and its owner on Buntzen Lake trail on the west side of the lake as hundreds of people were out enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
According to the owner, who contacted the Tri-City News late Monday, the dog was on the path within leash distance of her owner when the cougar attacked, picking the dog up and carrying her down the path.
Acting Sgt. Stark said the dog was not leashed at the time and said the mishap is a reminder to people to keep their dogs leashed and close to them when they are in the woods because animals like cougars consider them prey.
However, the owner said the cougar "came closer to us than a dog leash" and the fact that the dog wasn't on leash may have saved her life because there was no resistance that could have caused more damage to her dog in the attack.
"I understand that dogs need to be leashed and stay close to their owners. And we always keep our dog very close to us. She was right close to us, just sniffing on the path."
But considering the natural behaviour of a wild cougar, attacking a small dog is nothing out of the ordinary.
“The Buntzen lake incident had to do with a cougar going after its prey — being small animals,” said acting Sgt. Stark Wednesday, noting that the cougar left the group alone when the family scared it away.
She added: “That shows me that they’re staying away from people. That’s the most important part. We want people to be able to coexist with these animals.
“Aggressive behaviour for us is going up to someone’s door in broad daylight.”
The cougar has not been sighted since and the trail remains open.
HOW DO WE COEXIST WITH COUGARS?
Following the incident on Buntzen Lake trail, the Mossom Creek Hatchery and Education Centre organized an online education forum to help educate the public on how to coexist with cougars.
“Cougar sightings and camera captures appear to be on the rise, but how much do we really know about these big cats?” questioned organizer of the event Tracy Green.
In an over hour-long video presentation, wildlife-conflict specialist Tom Saare breaks down how authorities respond to conflicts with cougars and how to prevent such instances in the first place.
Under the banner “The Fear Factor,” the organization is hosting another educational forum Feb. 15 on the behaviour of predators and how their presence matters for entire ecosystems. You can register at mossomcreek.org/cougars-in-our-backyard/
— With files from Diane Strandberg