While cougar sightings appear to have increased in Kelowna, a UBCO researcher says, a new study could offer a greater understanding as to why the animal has been seen more often.
Adam Ford, Canada Research Chair in Wildlife Restoration Ecology and professor at UBCO, said it’s just speculation as to why there have been more cougar sightings in the Okanagan, as there isn’t a lot of data on the animal.
A research project tracking mule deer has been ongoing in the Okanagan and Ford expects to see an increase in the mule deer population near previous wildfires at some point, he said.
As cougars are the main predators for the deer, the Central Okanagan may see an increase in the predator population with the increase in the food source, but wouldn’t connect it to an increase in cougars in the area just yet, Ford said.
“It’s hard to know, (why) a lot of animal populations go up and down. Maybe there’s a link to changes to other sources of food. If the white tail deer population went down, as they don’t do as well in the winter, you might see more cougars wandering around,” he said.
Wildlife research historically has been underfunded, but plans for a cougar tracking project is in the works for next year, he said.
“We’re going to study them with camera traps for sure… and they’re going to go out this summer, but we’re going to do a more focused collared study on cougars probably by next winter,” Ford said.
This year, the province tried to start a pilot project to track them, but actually finding the big cats were difficult, according to Ford.
According to the province, the number of cougars spotted in the Kelowna area more the doubled between February and March 2019 compared to last year. Fifteen sightings were recorded in 2019, with only five sightings reported last year. Two were also killed this year. Coyote sightings also have tripled this spring compared to last year, with three sightings recorded in 2018 compared to nine in 2019.
We don’t know exactly why cougar conflict numbers fluctuate from one year to the next. Likely weather conditions play a role. This winter was cold with heavy snow in some areas which drive deer, their main prey species, down to valley bottoms where people tend to live and the cougar follow,” said public affairs officer Suzannah Kelly, with the province.
“We also tend to see people more vigilant about reporting cougar sightings following incidents and media reports which could lead to further increased call volumes. Although the numbers are high compared to last year they are not outside the norm,” she said.