Qualicum Beach resident Andy Phillips had never seen a cougar before.
When he did, it scared the living daylights out of him.
Phillips, an artist, had just finished painting at his studio when he decided to head to his garden for some fresh air before going to bed at around 2 a.m. on Aug. 17.
That’s when he heard noises. He wasn’t sure what it was.
“I’ve only lived in Qualicum Beach for two years and the rest of my life I lived in England,” said Phillips, who lives on Fern Road East near the Qualicum Beach Airport.
“My ears heard what I thought were two cats fighting. It was annoying. They were so annoying that I thought I’d scare them away so they won’t keep me awake.”
Phillips, who has a leg disability, slowly and quietly threaded across his garden to where he believed the cats were. That’s when he got the shock of his life.
He found himself staring at a huge cougar about 12 feet away.
“It was too close for me,” said Phillips. “It was a cougar right there. I have never seen a cougar before. My instinct was just to flee but then I remembered, somebody told me a long time ago, what to do if you meet a cougar. So I made myself look big and shouted as loud as I could. I expected it to run away but it did not. It jumped into a tree directly above my head.”
What was already a scary situation got worse.
“I couldn’t see the cougar and the tree is very, very close to me,” said Phillips. “It started to growl at me quite loudly. At this point I was terrified because I couldn’t see it. It had the high ground and it sounded really pissed off. I started to walk away. I remembered not to turn my back. I kept facing it and kept myself big. And very slowly with my disabled leg I walked backwards while shouting as loud as I could at this cougar.”
Phillips was able to make it back safely to his studio. He called 911 and was directed to the BC Conservation office. He was told that the cougar’s behaviour was unusual as it did not run away when he startled it.
“The noise it was making I was told by conservation officers they think it just made a kill,” said Phillips. “It was being very protective and very defensive of its kill. That’s why it was standing its ground.”
Being in an area where there is an abundance of rabbits, deers and other wildlife, Phillips said, they believe the cougar has been frequenting the area.
“We’ve found quite a lot of rabbit remains in our garden and it appears it’s been using our garden to hunt rabbits,” he said. “As long as there is wildlife, conservation officers told me the cougar will focus on them. But if they’re not available they are also likely to target livestock, pets and even children. So I was told it’s best to keep children and pets inside the house. I have a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. So that’s what I am doing.”
Residents in the area are being advised to be on the alert and to keep their pets safe.
There has been an increasing amount of cougar sightings in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area lately. Earlier this month, a cougar that killed a small dog in the Dunsmuir area had to be euthanized by conservation officers. There’s also a report of a cougar that killed a miniature pony in its pen in the Corcan Meadowood area.
According to Stuart Bates, conservation officer for the Central Island Zone (Chemainus to Deep Bay), COs have received 106 calls since April 1. Last year, at the same time period, they had about 90 and in 2018, they had 126 calls. Vancouver Island, he pointed out, has the highest population density of cougars in the world.
People are advised to call the provincial Report All Poachers and Polluters line at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP) to report any cougar sightings.