Behaviour described as “highly habituated and conditioned” led to two young cougars being killed by conservation officers in a small coastal community of British Columbia last week. But questions about the situation and circumstances of this behaviour remain unanswered.
The CBC reported on the incident, noting that some in the community of Ocean Falls, with a permanent population of three, and a nearby population in Martin Valley of about 30, was on edge after the two cougars killed and ate a seal on a dock.
“It's fine as long as one day they don't decide to take a human. They've been known to attack people without warning type of thing," one resident told CBC. "Boy oh boy, they're not afraid of anybody."
The CBC story, which didn’t address that this is relatively normal behaviour for cougars, or include any information on cougars, who are native to the area, from impartial sources, also failed to state that one of the reasons the cougars were killed is that the latest policy from the Ministry of Environment in BC is to not relocate cougars for any reason.
Though the anxiety and fear felt by the residents of this tiny town are reasonable, questions must be asked:
1. What human behaviour led to the alleged habituation/conditioning of the cougars?
2. What steps were taken to investigate this behaviour and try to end it prior to considering lethal action?
3. What kind of hazing programs or educational programs were put in place for residents?
4. How much time did Conservation Officers have on the ground before making the decision, and what was the time between the first complaint and a CO being able to attend the community?
5. What will be done to prevent this from happening again?
Conservation Officers have difficult jobs, at times, and we don’t know all the circumstances that went into their decision-making. But the Ministry of Environment, under whose mandate the COS operates, must recognize that these questions occur nearly every time lethal action is taken – and they’re rarely answered. It is time for transparency, honesty, and growth, not just for the people involved, but for the wild families that are torn apart.
Photo by Gladys Miller