Westsyde cougar sighting raises alarm

Sightings up 40 per cent in Kamloops region

A cougar sighting at a popular hiking spot has a Westsyde resident raising the alarm that a big cat is again on the prowl.

Christi Watchel bumped into the animal just a few minutes into a hike at Deep Lake earlier this week. She told The Daily News the cougar is hunting within a kilometre of homes off Ida Lane.

She's since learned that two dogs were attacked by a cougar in the same hills within the last week, Watchel said Thursday.

This prompted her to contact the conservation service and post warning signs at the entrance to numerous hiking trails.

Watchel said there were seven reported cougar sightings in the area last fall. She even encountered one herself while on a hike at Deep Lake. At the time, the cat was further away from people's homes.

Not so on Tuesday, when she noticed the cougar near the water tower while on a morning hike with her dog.

"It didn't do anything," she said, adding the animal was about 200 feet away from her. "It was quite a huge cat."

She headed back down the path toward Ida Lane, but made a point of looking back to see if she was being followed.

The cougar was behind her the first two times she looked, but was gone on the third, said Watchel.

"That's when I got quite scared," she said.

Watchel hasn't heard back from conservation, but believes people need to know that cougars are again in the area. She believes the animal is too comfortable around humans and fears for the safety of dogs, cats and children.

Ideally, she would like the big cat to be caught and relocated, she said.

So far the animal has not exhibited any behaviour that suggests it's a danger, said conservation officer Kevin Van Damme. However, conservation will keep track of reports in the area.

He said cougar sightings in the Kamloops region are up by 42 per cent this year compared to the five-year average of 50 a year. From April 1 to Aug 20, there have been 72 big-cat reports.

"The cougar population is strong and healthy," said Van Damme.

Cougar sightings are an annual occurrence in Westsyde and, at least anecdotally, occur more often in the community than other parts of town.

Frank Ritcey of WildSafeBC said the interface between urban and rural is at its greatest in Westsyde. Most of the sightings in Kamloops happen along Westsyde Road and Ord Road.

"It's what you'd expect with a cougar. They are going to want some cover to get back to when they're through hunting," he said.

Cougars that wander into neighbourhoods are young and haven't learned how to hunt deer, said Ritcey. Instead, they prey on dogs and cats.

"They are going to be moving around trying to find a piece of real estate they can inhabit," he said.

He advised people to keep their pets in at night.

As the city expands, the number of encounters between people and wildlife increase, said retired biologist Rick Howie.

"Lots of wildlife moves into town, too. There's lots of deer that move through town," he said.

Although school isn't yet in session, Kamloops-Thompson school board chairwoman Denise Harper said cougar sightings are a concern.

If the sightings persist, principals will let parents know about the big cat and advise them to take the necessary precautions when school starts next month.

To report seeing a cougar, phone 1-877-952-7277.

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