Safety in Numbers--This family group, pictured with Conservation Officer Greg Kruger on the far left, was stalked by a cougar along the Columbia River in Fairmont.  Photo Submitted

Safety in Numbers–This family group, pictured with Conservation Officer Greg Kruger on the far left, was stalked by a cougar along the Columbia River in Fairmont.Photo Submitted

After three encounters in as many weeks, Conservation Officers were forced to euthanize a cougar in the Fairmont area that had become too comfortable with close proximity to humans.

The first incident occurred with the cougar on July 23rd in the late afternoon when a woman and her younger daughter were walking through Columbia Lake Provincial Park to the hiking location on Lot 48 known as the Spirit Trail. It was at this point that a cougar approached them in a crouched position and they tried to scare it off. The two backed away from the cat, retreating down to Columbia Lake where they were met by a group of kayakers, only to have the cougar follow them down and later retreat from the area.

We were a little bit concerned about that behaviour, said Invermere Conservation Officer Greg Kruger. Its not natural cougar behaviour, not showing fear of people.

A week later on July 30th, the Conservation Office received a second call in the late afternoon when a lone male encountered a cougar in the same area. According to the report, the cougar came within six feet of the man who did all the right things making noise, making himself look bigger to scare the cat away. Backing away from the cougar, the man was followed by the cat and was eventually forced into the lake, swimming away from the area to avoid a further safety issue.

After being alerted to the encounter, the Conservation Officers posted warning signs in the area with the Nature Conservancy of Canada electing to temporarily close Lot 48 to public access. It was at that point Conservation Officers determined that if another encounter occurred, lethal action would be required.

Basically we had come to the decision that if this cougar reoffended and displayed that same behaviour that it did on the prior two, we would target it to put it down, said Mr. Kruger. It was not a cougar that we were comfortable not doing anything about because there was a risk that someone was going to get hurt if we left it.

Mr. Kruger said that typical cougar behaviour is to be afraid of human contact within the woods and that this cougars willingness to get close to humans was dangerously abnormal.

On August 9th, Conservation Officers were faced with this reality as they received a third call of a cougar encounter in the Ogilvie Wills subdivision in Fairmont Hot Springs. Alerting them was a family who was walking from their house down to the river with a kayak and floatation devices when they crossed paths with the cougar. The family dropped their belongings upon encountering the cat and retreated slowly to their home as the cougar followed them to Sable Road in Fairmont.

After receiving the call, Conservation Officers entered the scene of the encounter with an electronic predator call, a device that simulates different animal sounds to attract a predator, and set it up in a meadow near the initial spotting. The cougar was attracted to the sound within minutes.

We deemed that this was a definite public safety issue with this cougar in the Fairmont area so when the cougar came to the electronic call, we put it down, Mr. Kruger said.

Richard Klafki, stewardship co-ordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) Canadian Rockies Program in Invermere, told The Pioneer that NCC has reopened the trail on Lot 48 for public use but warns the public to remain vigilant of wildlife in the area.

Mr. Kruger said that people should be aware of the potential dangers and read up on safety information on the WildSafeBC and Ministry of Environment websites. Some of the common advice he offers people is to make noise while travelling, and move in large groups while also carrying bear spray to protect yourself in close encounters. Despite the recent incidents, Mr. Kruger warned against being paranoid and abandoning the many backcountry hikes that make the valley a popular location.

Its been a long time since we had a cougar attack in this area, he said. The biggest thing for people is still enjoy your backcountry, but be aware that there are wild animals in this area that could potentially harm them and just to have that awareness while theyre out to have their eyes up and ears open.

Mr. Kruger said people should report any safety concerns with wildlife to Conservation Officers at 1-877-952-7277 so that they are able to track the information and avoid having to euthanize more animals in the future.

Its always a last case resort for us to euthanize an animal, he said. We dont want to do it so whatever we can do for prevention, we try to do that first. By people reporting to us, it really helps us monitor specific animals and specific areas where a public safety issue may be developing.