cougar mountain lion head
Photo Credit: Pixabay / Pexels

Photo Credit: Pixabay / Pexels

What’s Up Pussy Cat?

VanIsle is home to the highest concentration of cougars in North America

600 to 800 cougars prowl the forests and neighbourhoods of Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is cat country, and we’re not talking about American short hairs or Sphynxes. Roughly 4,000 cougars live in BC, and between 600 and 800 of them prowl the forests and neighbourhoods of Vancouver Island.

Researchers believe our island is home to the highest concentration of cougars in North America. However, this mysterious wild cat is notoriously difficult to study and track.

Cougars are fast and strong. They have powerful, long hind legs that enable them to jump 12 meters from a standstill and run up 70 km/hr. In addition, they are skilled hunters, most effective at short sprints.

If you’ve spent any time hiking on Vancouver island, chances are good that a cougar has sized you up in passing. And chances are even better that you had no idea. Stealth is the cougar’s most powerful weapon.

The island’s cougar, Felis concolor vancouverensis, is a subspecies of the puma or mountain lion found in both North and South America. Though we lack solid data about Vancouver Island cougar populations, there is no shortage of anecdotal reports of sightings and encounters.

These beautiful animals are as feared as they are misunderstood. Yet, despite a reputation for ferocity, cougars are much more than lethal predators; they play an important ecosystem role in limiting ungulate foraging on plants and young trees and controlling the smaller mammal population.

Provincial large carnivore specialist Garth Mowat says their abundance on Vancouver Island is closely tied to the availability of their favourite prey, deer, as well as competition from another predator, the wolf. According to Mowat, as more wolves started appearing on the Island and deer populations declined, cougars found themselves with inadequate food and were getting into conflicts with people. As a result, since the 1990s, deer density has not recovered compared to where it was.

“Now populations may have balanced off. I haven’t heard about cougars attacking people on Vancouver Island for years,” said Mowat. “The attacks in the ‘80s and ‘90s could have been more food-driven on the cougars’ part.”

Outside of the mating season, cougars are solitary, nocturnal animals. They require a territory of about 10 square kilometres.

Most of the Island’s cougars look reddish-brown in colour, and a fully grown male will weigh about 70 kg.

“They don’t just wander randomly; they are very territorial,” said Mowat. “Adult males will kill or injure young males that wander through searching for their own territory.”

But the biggest impact on cougar populations are – no surprise –  human development and encroachment.

“A parking lot is not a good habitat for virtually any animal,” said Mowat. “We need to think about better ways of living together with cougars, because when there is a conflict with a cougar, it usually ends up being killed.”

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