Cougar killings are on the decline. Why?

The number of cougars killed by BC conservation officers and others dramatically declined in the last three years. There are many reasons why.

By Grace Kennedy | July 11, 2022 |5:00 am

In the last decade more than 1,200 cougars have been killed by conservation officers or others in BC—but the last three years have seen a steep decline in the number of big cat killings.

According to data included in the BC Conservation Service’s human-predator conflict update, 1,241 cougars have been killed between 2011 and 2021. About two-thirds of those deaths were by conservation officers, who are responsible for helping residents deal with cougar-related conflicts and are occasionally dispatched to kill problem cougars. The remainder were by others: members of the public or other agencies who may also interact with the wild cats. (These numbers do not include hunting deaths.)

On average, roughly 73 cougars have been killed each year. But since 2019, there has been a major decrease in the number of cougars killed by humans. Last year, 50 cougars were killed, while 10 years earlier the number was over 100.

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That may be in part because the number of calls for service has gone down during the last three years. A decade ago, the BC Conservation Service received roughly 3,000 cougar-related calls each year, and attended a little more than 600 of them. By last year, the number of calls was down by 14% from a decade ago, and the number of times the conversation service attended those calls was down by almost 40%.

But, as BC Conservation Service inspector Kevin Van Damme noted, there are many reasons for why human-cougar interactions may change.

“It’s quite a complex web,” he said.

Van Damme has been part of the Conservation Service for roughly three decades, and spent much of that time looking at how the service handles conflict between people and cougars.

As a rule, cougars don’t like interacting with people. Usually, they avoid human settlements and prefer wild prey to livestock. (You can read The Current’s in-depth look at cougars in the Fraser Valley here.) But occasionally, they do come into conflict with people. That often occurs when young males search for their own territory after leaving their mothers, or when elderly or sick cougars struggling to survive move closer to humans.

Conservation officers follow a response guideline when receiving calls about cougars, he said. In some cases, an officer provides advice to homeowners who may have livestock that are attracting cougars. In others, they kill the problem cat.

But people have killed half as many cougars in recent years than they did a decade ago. And it’s not entirely clear why.

Van Damme noted that in the previous decade, cougars have expanded their territory, following deer that have also been spreading northwards into the upper reaches of BC. That may have caused a spike in the number of calls the Conservation Service had in the early 2010s, and potentially the number of cougars that had negative interactions with people.

“Tolerance is probably a good way to put it,” he explained. “In an Interior community, [people] might not become hysteric, they might not be hypersensitive about a cougar being discovered on their security camera.

“In a community that’s not used to having cougars around… it might generate a much more panic-type response.”

It’s possible that as communities get used to their new cougar friends—and as cougars recognize human settlements and begin to avoid them—the number of calls related to cougars drop. But it’s also possible that BC’s cougar population has been in a natural decline.

“We’re in a time when we’re getting fewer conflicts, fewer interactions, and I think it’s really dependent on the… highs and lows of the deer population,” Van Damme said.

“Three years from now we could be right back to 2011 numbers, and that would not be a surprise to me.”

But there is one other option—and one that Van Damme hopes could be the case for why there are fewer cougars being killed.

“It could be in part due to prevention where we’re trying to get people… to guard their livestock, guard their pets,” he said. “So the hope is that our preventative measures do reduce the cougar conflicts that we receive.”

In April, The Current published an in-depth look at the Fraser Valley’s cougars, including how residents can better coexist with the local wild cats. You can find that story here.

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Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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