Cougar possibly sighted near Elementary School

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, December 27 2016

Gabriola RCMP released information this past week stating that on Thursday, Dec. 22, a cougar had potentially been sighted near the Gabriola Elementary School.

The RCMP received a request for assistance from the BC Conservation Office to attend the school where three children reported that they observed a cougar at the farthest end of the soccer field, just inside the trees. 

Cpl. Nathan Dame, Detachment Commander said RCMP members patrolled the wooded area around the school but did not locate a cougar. 

Stuart Bates, Conservation Officer with the Ministry of Environment said that was the only cougar sighting on Gabriola for this year.

“I can’t confirm whether there was a cougar. RCMP attended, did not find tracks. It is certainly possible, there are a lot of deer on Gabriola Island.”

As to whether the Ministry would be ‘doing anything’ about the cougar, such as relocating it or otherwise removing it from the school area, Bates said that was unlikely.

“We have what we know to be a family of cougars living in Departure Bay - they’ve been there since October, and we’re only observing.

“Unless cougars are demonstrating aggressive, threatening, or predatory behaviour towards people or pets, we leave them alone.”

Bates said the best advice he had is to be vigilant, but not fearful, and to be aware of what’s going on in the surroundings.

He said the Vancouver Island region has the highest concentration of cougars on the planet. 

“I’ve hunted, hiked, and fished my whole life, I’ve never seen one. Chances of seeing one are pretty slim.”

With that in  mind, he added,  Vancouver Island is the most common place in the world for a cougar attack. There is, on average, less than one attack per year. There has not been a fatality since the early 1990s.

“Even though attacks are [relatively] common here, it is very rare.”

The Turkey Question

Bates also took time to answer questions about the Gabriola turkeys, and whether their population numbers are beginning to be a concern to the Ministry.

He said he gets questions on a regular basis about Gabriola turkeys.

“The Gabriola turkeys are feral. They’ve been released, intentionally or not.

“But because there are wild turkeys elsewhere in BC, the turkeys fall into the BC hunting regulations.”

There is no turkey hunting season on Gabriola, according to Bates. He said there was a special permit issued this past year to allow for some culling of the turkeys. Those permits are available through the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations

Without a permit, Bates said the only option is for people to chase the turkeys, or otherwise make them fearful of humans. Feeding the turkeys and the deer, he said, is not illegal.

“On Gabriola, it is only illegal to feed dangerous wildlife [such as bears and cougars.]

“So not illegal to feed the deer and turkeys. But if you feed them, expect cougars, they go where the food is.

“When it comes to wildlife, feral or not, it is not a good idea to feed them. If you feed deer and raccoons, you’re also going to bring in the bears and cougars. We always advise people not to feed anything.”

Bates added if there was a bear on Gabriola, and people were leaving food out for animals, his office could then issue tickets.