Understanding the difference between awareness and a warning

Cougar sightings in the area of Port Moody have led police to ask residents to be aware of their presence – but the subtleties of what that means are confused by the media.

The CBC reported Tuesday that Port Moody Police had received numerous calls about a cougar, though they and conservation officers had not located any.

"They aren't a huge concern but when we do have sightings we like to let the public know," an officer told the CBC.

Had the article ended there, or simply moved on to the “what to do when you see a cougar” section at the conclusion, residents would have been reasonably aware that cougars may be nearby, and understood reasonable precautions. Unfortunately, the article continued: "Cougars view small children and pets as targets due to their small size,high pitched voices and the way that children and animals move.”

It is akin to flight attendants, following their required safety talk, noting that in the event of cataclysmic engine failure, you’re likely to crash and burn along with all the other passengers. Yes, it is sort of true – but it doesn’t really help, and, in fact, could cause more problems in the long run.

Understanding that cougars, or any large animal, is nearby, is important; understanding how to prevent conflict by removing attractants, and how to manage conflict should it occur, is equally important. Inspiring fear for the sake of filling space that could lead to inappropriately fearful actions by residents, is, of course, not.

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