Parents of two different families voiced frustration over wild animal activity in Oak Bay during Tuesday’s council meeting – both pleading for action.
“We’re all starting to feel unsafe in the community,” said Parminder Basran, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Victoria, who delivers the Oak Bay News with his children twice a week in the evening. Last week they learned of a cougar sighting, minutes before, on their regular route. In another incident, a large buck jumped from the bushes to the sidewalk where the children stood.
The kids check the trampoline area before going outside to play, as deer frequent the yard, he said, and the family of regular walkers, now routinely call for a ride home from the bus stop.
“The entire family has to walk through a series of regions where there is inadequate lighting,” he said.
Basran was careful to point out he understands the risk of injury and probability of attack are minimal – but the exist.
“I carry a knife … in my back yard,” Valerie Irvine told council. Her daughter has nightmares about cougars and the family dogs are living inside more. Her children were put in a scary “hold and secure” at two separate schools due to a cougar sighting nearby. These all add up, she said, to a loss of quality of life.
Irvine called on council for proactive movement, and intolerance of the wildlife, both cougars and deer.
“I want the urban area restored to urban,” she said. “I did not sign up for rural.”
The conservation service is working with Oak Bay Police, who have responded to several cougar calls in this community over the past few weeks.
Urban cougars are hard to catch Sgt. Scott Norris told the Oak Bay News Wednesday,
“A cougar can disappear pretty fast when it wants to,” the conservation officer said. “Just because you have dogs doesn’t mean you will catch a cougar in an urban environment.”
Norris visited Oak Bay this week in a bid to investigate the multiple reports.
“(Police are) often first on the scene and if they’re able to ascertain there is a cougar, we’re going to get down there as soon as we can,” Norris said. “We haven’t verified for sure if there’s a second cougar in the area.”
It’s not unusual for a conservation officer to arrive after a sighting and find a resident has photos of a large tabby cat, he said. While many people make mistakes, the conservation service would rather assess the information, than not get the call.
“I’d rather have them report it and let us investigate it, than not report it and find out it was a cougar,” Norris said.
Those same house cats, other pets and wildlife – such as racoons – can also hinder dogs tracking a cougar.
“Even using hound dogs in an urban environment poses a challenge,” Norris said. “There’s no magic bullet for catching a cougar in an urban environment … it really takes a community effort to catch a cougar in those areas.”
The recent capture in James Bay is largely attributed to everything going right, and the eagle eyes of residents with a bird’s-eye view from second- and third-floor balconies.
Oak Bay on the other hand, is made up largely of single family homes with large back yards and trees.
“It’s a challenge, it always will be a challenge,” Norris said. “If there is another cougar there it will eventually make its way out before we catch it or it will start being seen more in the daylight hours.”
Oak Bay Police confirmed a young fawn was attacked and killed by an animal earlier this month, discovered before a cat was subsequently recovered in James Bay, after an hours-long hunt, and relocated.
“Nothing’s been confirmed, nothing’s solid like the one in James Bay,” said Const. Rick Anthony, community liaison officer for Oak Bay Police. “People are seeing things they think are cougars and maybe they are. We’re advising people to be vigilant if a sighting was in the area you’re living.”
Oak Bay Police remind residents to take precautions such as walking in groups and avoiding wooded ares, adding that cougars tend to be out between dusk and dawn.
“They’re as scared as we are probably. We don’t want the fear to get out of control,” Anthony said. “We don’t deter people from calling, call if you think you see something. … Right now we’re trying to minimize the fear factor, be vigilant and keep your eyes peeled.”
If you should find yourself faced with the large cat, back away slowly, make yourself look as big as possible and pick up small children and pets.
“Never turn and run. Don’t turn your back on a cougar,” said Norris. “It’s very rare that a cougar attacks people or pets but it does happen occasionally.”
A cougar can be up to nine feet in length from nose to tail. The tail itself can be up to three-feet long. Report cougars to Oak Bay Police at 250-592-2424 or call 9-1-1 in an emergency, or call the conservation office at 1-877-952-7277.