Two 16-month-old cougars were destroyed by the Conservation Officer Service (COS) Friday in the remote community of Ocean Falls after officers received complaints of unusual and potentially dangerous behaviour of the animals in the community.
“There was no other course of action to take,” said Rachel Daykin, corporate officer for the Ocean Falls Improvement District, who called in the COS to investigate after residents had multiple close encounters with the animals. “We are all wildlife nuts, that’s why we live here, and we don’t want to see animals killed. It’s unfortunate, but should we have waited until (the cougars) ate someone? There’s nothing more for them to eat, and nowhere for them to go.”
Daykin said the community has seen an elusive, large adult cougar for the last few years in the area. They have also watched as much of the area’s wildlife, such as wolves, deer and marmots, get either driven away or eaten by the growing family.
About a week ago, however, the older cubs made their presence known in the community by frequenting a fish rearing facility and a business locally known as The Way at the docks to the point where employees could no longer work around the fearless animals.
“We hadn’t seen them in a while but they obviously had been watching us because they weren’t afraid of anything.”
“I’ve hunted cougar and I’ve had a lot to do with the cougar, but these guys even got the dogs in town afraid of them,” said resident Herb Carpenter. “I’ve never had them walk by me within five feet before.”
Conservation officer Steven Hodgson said the COS received complaints of the animals beginning Nov. 21 and made the trip out to Ocean Falls Friday, Nov. 25 to investigate.
“They were showing bold behaviour and exhibiting no fear of humans,” Hodgson said. “They were jumping the fence into the fish rearing facility and staying two hours at a time, they were siting under boats at the way, they were sleeping on porches and wouldn’t leave even with the use of vehicles, air horns and dogs. Cougars usually don’t get conditioned like this.”
After consulting with government experts, Hodgson said it was determined the animals did not fit the requirements for relocation due to their extreme conditioning to human food and the fact the animals were heavily habituated. Hodgson knew it was also too risky to leave the large carnivores in the community of 20 or so residents.
“Unfortunately the danger rating (for these animals being around humans) was through the roof.”
Hodgson said he found multiple locations where old and fresh garbage had been drug up into the forest by the animals and also heavily packed trails throughout the community that they had used daily in close proximity to humans.
“That sends red flags,” he said.
Hodgson said two days prior to his arrival in the community the cougars had managed to kill a 200-pound seal which they drug up onto a private dock to feed on. The animals were guarding that kill and also spending much of their days inside the boat mechanics building (The Way), bringing daily business to a halt.
It was in that building that Hodgson said he located the first cougar sitting under a boat, about 10 yards away from him, twitching his tail. After several attempts to scare away the animal, a second cougar in the building came toward the officer, approaching him as close as eight feet before Hodgson shot him. Hodgson said when the other cougar didn’t budge after the gun went off he determined it was necessary to destroy both animals.
The animals, both males, were 85 and 65 pounds and had likely been feeding on human garbage for much of the summer and fall, he said.
Hodgson said he has started discussions in the community to better remove attractants such as proper storage and removal of garbage and compost.
“They need to make these animals feel not welcome in their community if they don’t want this to happen again.”
Daykin, who has only been on the job for two weeks but has lived seasonally in the community for the past eight years, agrees garbage has been an issue in the summer months in the community, which sees its population balloon up to 200 seasonal residents.
She said the community incinerates its garbage once a week in the summer but with residents coming and going for one or two week stays, it often gets forgotten.
“It gets left out (in the summer) then it barely makes garbage day.”
In the winter, garbage gets incinerated every second week and most locals are great stewards of the area, and avid recyclers, said Daykin, who will be working with the COS.
“The key is prevention.”
The death of the cubs has created an outcry on social media with commentators saying the cats were only behaving as cougars would.
Gladys Miller, another resident of the community, sympathized with those comments but also said she understood that conservation officers had to prioritize the safety of Ocean Fall’s human residents.
“I do not bear any hard will towards the officers. It is just their job. But I think as a community we should be respecting nature a little bit more,” she said.
Hodgson said the community is planning to reinforce a transfer station with electric fencing to better keep animals from getting habituated.
“Obviously the people of Ocean Falls cherish their wildlife. We just have to work together to protect them so this doesn’t happen again,” he said.