Courtenay based author, Paula Wild, is giving a presentation on October 12 at the Nanaimo Museum, which will be a condensed version of her book, The Cougar, Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous.
Wild has spent the last three years working full-time on the book, which she ventured into after becoming enthralled with cougars. Wild said she read a cougar safety article one day and found it very interesting. She continued to read more, and then contacted the author and told him he should write a book. He suggested she write it and he would assist her in gathering information.
After hearing a cougar scream in the area behind her house, Wild realized she did not know what to do if she came into contact with one. Wild enjoys hiking and admits she never thought about cougars being a problem.
Wild hopes that through her book she can help educate people on the beauty and strength of cougars, as well as show people how crucial they are to our ecosystem, and why we must learn to co-habituate.
Cougar attacks spiked in the 1990s, said Wild. “In the 1940s, there were five attacks in the U.S. and Canada. In the 70s, there were 19, but in the 90s there were 62.”
Wild said that, unlike bears that attack defensively, cougars will attack for multiple different reasons. “They are predatory animals,” said Wild, “they will attack you if they are hungry or if their chase and kill instinct is triggered.”
When she started the book, Wild said she knew very little about cougars. Now knowing how much cougar population is affected by human development, and also how much cougar population impacts the environment, Wild looks for ways human and cougars can co-exist with the least risk to both.
Vancouver Island is the cougar hotspot of the world, said Wild. In the last 200 years there have been 252 attacks in the U.S. and Canada, 89 of which were in B.C. and 50 on Vancouver Island.
Wild has lived in Courtenay, for 25 years and has not had an actual face-to-face encounter with a cougar. She said she is shocked at how many people she has talked to who have seen cougars multiple times.
Getting information out is important, as people can prevent cougar attacks quite easily. A study done in Washington State showed that two out of three people did not know what to do if they came across a cougar.
When people are attacked by cougars, Wild said it is usually because they are triggered by something. Cougar’s instincts are set off by things such as fast movement, high pitches, or signs of vulnerability. Things like crouching, bending over, or jogging could trigger the cougar to attack.
According to Wild, there are many misconceptions about cougars and why they attack. One of the misconceptions is that cougars are more likely to attack children than adults. “Although children would be quite attractive to a cougar,” said Wild, “the number of attacks on children is equal to attacks on adults.”
Another misconception is that you are safer in a group. Although being in a group may provide more noise and keep cougars away, the group itself is not a deterrent. Wild said cougars are used to attacking deer, which travel in herds. Once the cougar attacks a deer the rest of the herd scatters. It seems as though cougars expect the same reaction from humans.
Many people believe having a dog with you will keep cougars away as well. Although studies have shown that a dog can be a deterrent, it is situational. If a cougar is hungry, it will go after the dog, but in most situations, if the dog is aggressive they will run. If there is more than one dog, it is more likely the cougar would not attack. Wild said this does not apply at night. Due to the stealthy predatory nature of the cougar, under the cover of night they are likely to attack.
Wild said cougar hunting can play both a positive and negative role in controlling cougar populations and attacks. She said hunting cougars can keep the populations in check, and can be a good thing. The negative side of cougar hunting is that hunters usually go after the biggest males. Wild said when there is a lack of large adult males, the young adult males are not properly controlled and are more likely to venture into urban areas and be more aggressive towards humans.
“More sightings and attacks do not mean there are more cougars,” said Wild. “It means there are more young adult males honing their skills and looking for territory.”
Cougars are the largest cat in Canada and used to roam from the Yukon to Patagonia. Cougars are now being tracked with GPS collars, and they are starting to migrate east. One cougar was tracked traveling from South Dakota to Connecticut.
According to Wild, two tips will help if you come across a cougar is to make eye contact and don’t break it—and if you are wearing sunglasses, remove them. Wild also said if you are going anywhere cougars may be, have a whistle with you. Cougars do not like sustained noise—the shrill sound of a whistle for an amount of time will usually scare it off.
Cougars are also commonly called pumas, panthers, and mountain lions. Wild said they are all the same animal, but cougar is the most commonly used.
Wild will be touring Vancouver Island from Victoria to Tofino, as well as the North end of the island. She is also going to the lower mainland, and eventually Washington State. Her book, The Cougar, Beautiful, Wild, and Dangerous is available at any bookstore, as well as on Amazon and Indigo, and is available as hard cover or e-book.
For more information on Paula Wild and her work visit paulawild.ca.