A dozen pre-teen girls and a couple of tag-along younger brothers bounced happily on the trampoline in the back of Clint and Dawna Schadlich’s yard Thursday night.
It was a party to mark the end of their two daughters’ softball season, and teammates and families were invited to their Pine Springs Road home that butts up against a forested hillside.
“It was girls’ softball year-end barbecue. We have it every year here,” Dawna Schadlich said Friday.
But as the sun began to set, a few of the kids heard tree branches crackling and they all headed from the higher, back terrace of the yard down to the house.
“They were freaked out. They had all heard branches snapping.”
A few minutes later, someone looked up where the kids had just been and asked her, “Is that a cougar?”
Under a tree less than two metres from the trampoline was a cougar — a full grown, healthy cougar.
“It just made me sick,” said Schadlich.
The family has had bears in their Westsyde yard before, but this was a first for such a stealthy predator as a cougar. It gave her chills to realize the big cat was lying under that tree while the kids were out playing just feet away.
“He was there even when the kids were on the trampoline. He wasn’t moving,” she said.
“It’s so dense, from past the trampoline it’s just bush.”
Her husband grabbed his camera and went after the cougar, which didn’t take off but disappeared for a while, then reappeared. The cat vanished again later as it got darker and conservation officers arrived.
“There’s so many hiding places. It’s really unnerving because our backyard is where we do everything,” she said.
Conservation field supervisor Steve Wasylik said the cougar was gone before he could get there.
He didn’t know whether the cougar felt trapped or was just reluctant to leave the area. The Schadlichs’ backyard is up against a treed and wooded ravine — perfect territory for a cougar.
“It didn’t do anything aggressive but it was very hard to chase off,” he said.
Judging from the photos Wasylik saw, the cougar is mature and in good shape.
Cougars will hang around an urban area to prey on easy-to-hunt pets. Wasylik said he looked for the telltale missing pet posters, but didn’t notice any.
“They will clean up an area of house cats,” he said.
“It didn’t do anything aggressive, so we’re not tracking it.”
The mild winter was could be a factor as well, as that usually means a good deer population, which is what cougars mainly feed on.
“This could just be a cougar passing through. They have a big home range,” he said.
He urged people living on the edge of wild areas keep their pets in and their kids out of the bush for a while.
For the Schadlich family, the cougar’s appearance is putting a damper on what would normally be an active, outdoorsy summer.
“We’re a hiking, go-in-the-backyard type of family. My husband does a run up the mountain every other day. My son is an athlete, he runs up the mountain lots. That’s done,” said Schadlich.
“I went down both sides of the street today and told neighbours on the mountain side about keeping pets inside.
“I don’t know much about cougars, I’ve never had to worry about them. That was very nerve wracking. What could have happened? It’s the what-ifs.”