The bold behaviour of a cougar and her three juvenile offspring forced conservation officers to take actions they would have preferred not to.
The three juveniles were euthanized Tuesday morning, and conservation officers were continuing the search for the mother of the family unit as of press time.
The decision to euthanize came after efforts to encourage the family of cougars to move away from populated areas and an elementary school failed.
Jim Beck, a sergeant with the Conservation Officer Service, said putting the animals down wasn’t something they wanted to do, but the cougars’ behaviour became more bold over the weekend, after the animals had spent Friday afternoon under a deck near Columbia Elementary school.
“We located the kill that we thought were keeping them in this area,” said Beck. “It was located right in somebody’s yard down in an excavated hole for footings.”
That kill was removed in hopes of encouraging the family to move on, but the cougars continued to stay in the east Penticton area and sightings continued over the weekend, including more daytime sightings, which Beck said showed the mother’s increasing confidence.
“She was posing for pictures under that deck, coming out and sunning herself,” said Beck, adding that the mother had total disregard for human presence. “Our concerns for public safety were definitely ramped up due to activity level. We pushed her out once and then she made a stalking attempt on someone’s dog.”
Another kill, a Big Horn ram, was found by a woman walking her dog on trails in the Forestbrook area and Beck said they brought their service dogs in to track the cougars, which were located and treed behind housing in a greenspace near Penticton Avenue and Ridgeview.
“We ended up euthanizing the three juveniles. The female bailed out of the tree and left the immediate area and we are still looking for her,” said Beck.
Repeated attempts to get the family to move on had failed.
“We removed her kills, we pushed her out from under the deck and did some hazing,” said Beck, who also provided one of the complainants with a scare pistol and bear bangers in hopes of scaring the mother and making her more wary.
“She didn’t take any of the messaging or any of the hazing. She was extremely comfortable with being way too close and into developed areas and seen by people during daylight,” said Beck.
“We responded with the thought that public safety is of higher priority than resource management,” said Beck, adding that the cougar population is strong. He explained that trying to tranquillize the cougars wasn’t really an option — the family would starve if they took them into the mountains, and they couldn’t just drop them off near another community.
“There is no really good solution,” said Beck.
The cougar family has been in the area since at least the beginning of January, but on Friday afternoon, they elected to take shelter under a deck close to Columbia Elementary.
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Wendy Hyer, Superintendent for the Okanagan Skaha School District. said they were in touch the Conservation Officer Service and the school took appropriate action, like reducing the children’s play area.
Hyer said she was confident about the children’s safety, and the school implemented the same procedures they use regarding other animals.
“We have bears in the fall and it is really just being diligent about observing,” said Hyer. “We have a good working relationship with the conservation officers.”
Beck explained that most of his fellow officers got into the conservation officer services for the love of animals, so having to put them down is a hard thing to do.
“They’re gorgeous. I love them (cougars). They are actually one of my favourite species,” said Beck, explaining that the threat to humans was just too high.
The high number of urban deer is what probably attracted the cougar family to the city.
“Urban deer are a lot less aware of their surroundings. There is a lot more noise and vehicles,” said Beck. “It makes it that much easier for a cougar to sneak up an urban deer than a bush deer. It’s a lot quieter and they have to be a lot stealthier.
“I think she is kind of keyed in that these urban deer are easy pickings.”
Beck said the cats were frequenting the area from Ellis Creek over to Penticton Creek, on the periphery of Penticton, but starting to venture in deeper as the mother became more confident.