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Predator loss is a major and growing issue  [Bob Collins]

On a late July evening, Alberni Valley resident Gordon Thomson was surprised to see a full grown cougar laying on his front yard 20 feet from his living room window. Over the next ten minutes, Thomson and his wife, Deanna, watched three more full grown cats sprawl on their lawn.

Thomson, a retired logger and outdoorsman who spent more than 40 years in the coastal rain forest, says the four cougars in his yard were as many as he saw in the wild in all his working days.  

Thomson’s home overlooks the farm he was born and raised on and two more farms beyond it. Less than a mile away, neighbour Fritz Zens found the remains of an Angus calf two days after the cougars appeared in the Thomson’s yard. Zens reported the kill to a Victoria number and provided requested information regarding the location of the carcass. He subsequently had the kill verified by a reputable predator hunter.

A week later, a conservation officer contacted him by telephone to suggest that he arrange for secure indoor night-time confinement for his cattle. As all of this was unfolding, the cougars were still frequenting the Thomson’s yard. All four were seen together in the front yard again. One was seen chasing a feral rabbit across the lawn and another has been circling the house and walking through the carport.

There are a number of issues at play here. Foremost: the worrying behaviour of the cougars. The big cats are usually solitary, shy and seldom seen. Their repeated appearance in numbers suggests that something is changing their behaviour. The likely explanation is an empty belly.

The population of deer the cougars hunt is increasing in urban and suburban areas throughout the province. There is one school of thought that suggests the deer are moving to the city because mature forests are in increasingly short supply. The cougars have little choice but to follow the deer, develop a tolerance for human contact and inevitably start crossing paths with pets and livestock.

As this is written, conservation officers in Port Alberni are searching for a cougar that has been hunting deer and other large animals in a city neighbourhood for nearly a month. The large cat has come in close contact with some children and parents have been warned to keep their kids indoors until conservation officers track it down.

Beyond the obvious concern that large predators pose to public safety is the livestock predation dilemma faced by farmers and ranchers. The criterion for predator management or intervention seems to be an imminent threat to public safety. Out on the farm or ranch, it’s another matter.

The calf or lamb killed by a cougar (wolf, bear) in your pasture won’t get the same response as a spaniel or tabby dispatched within the city limits. The response to dead livestock might be a phone call with a little sage advice about better management techniques.

Predator loss is a major and ongoing issue. The BC Cattlemen’s Association has a Livestock Protection Program with recommended Best Management Practices (BMP) for cattle and sheep. Anyone with livestock would do well to visit the website [] and read the BMP, keeping in mind it’s a tall order to outsmart a canny and hungry predator.

The BMP begins by recommending that pastures be located away from water courses and woods. Many BC farms and ranches can’t escape either.

Looking out the window, I can’t see any place on our farm that is more than about 500 feet from one or the other. The same could be said for Mr. Zens’ farm. They are the same features that farmers and ranchers have been encouraged to protect to maintain the environment and enhance biological diversity.

The cougars lounging on the Thomson’s lawn, those killing calves and lambs, and the one living in the city are symptoms of a bigger problem that is playing out in many areas of the province. It won’t be solved by putting the livestock under lock and key.

If the government is going to regulate and control the responses, the least we should expect is a co-ordinated and coherent effort to understand what is going on and an ongoing commitment to mitigate the impact on BC farms and ranches.

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Vol.102 Issue 9