By Breanne Massey
The trail north of Radium Aquacourt and some in the surrounding area were temporarily closed on Monday, January 11th due to concerns about a cougar hunting in the area.
Its a small area of trail that goes past the Radium Hot Springs Aquacourt area the trail that goes up to overflow or upper parking lot where a jogger encountered a cougar on that trail around 9 a.m. on January 11th, said Jon Stuart-Smith, Parks Canada human-wildlife conflict expert. Our staff went in after he reported it at the gate. We found a carcass of a juvenile bighorn sheep so we decided to temporarily close the area.
The jogger had initially noticed cougar tracks and some broken branches along the pathway.
As soon as he saw it, the cougar ran away, explained Mr. Stuart-Smith. Theres no negative encounter. The cougar was behaving normally. It had this bighorn sheep that it had killed and was feeding on and the runner disturbed him, but the cougar ran away so there was no aggressive behaviour or anything out of the ordinary in terms of the behaviour of the animal.
In addition, the Redstreak Campground Trail, Juniper Trail, Sinclair Canyon Trail Area, the sidewalk adjacent to Highway 93S, and the overflow parking lot north of the Radium Aquacourt were also closed due to cougar concerns.
We put in a caution for the trails in that surrounding area because we have had some cougar activity there as well as in the Village of Radium Hot Springs after the holidays, said Mr. Stuart-Smith.
Parks Canada is eagerly waiting for the cougar to finish feasting on the bighorn sheep to re-open the trails.
It probably wont take long for the cougar to finish feeding on the carcass because its not a big animal, he said. Itll probably only take about a week, but we will monitor and make sure the cougar has finished with the carcass and give it a few days to make sure theres no more attraction to that specific area.
The affected areas will remain closed until Parks Canada provides further information to the public.
When we feel that theres no imminent danger anymore, well open it up and probably leave the caution signs up in that area for a while, said Mr. Stuart-Smith.
Cougar preys on wildlife in Radium
Wildlife in the Village of Radium Hot Springs have become a food source for a cougar this winter.
Weve had two public reports of animals being killed by a cougar near Radium, said Greg Kruger, an Invermere conservation officer.
The first attack occurred when the cougar killed a wild sheep at Sun Valley Place in Radium on Tuesday, December 29th. Shortly afterward, a deer was killed by the cougar near The Springs golf course on Jackson Avenue on Saturday, January 2nd.
Prior to the sighting by a jogger on January 11th, the cougar had not been spotted by a member of the community. It had merely been observed through the attacks it had made on wildlife in the village and through its tracks.
Were carefully monitoring reports where the cougar has made kills and would be interested to know if anybody has seen it, explained Mr. Kruger, noting the last tracks showed it was heading east into Kootenay National Park, an observation confirmed by the sighting near the Radium Aquacourt.
He emphasized the importance of pet owners diligently bringing their cats and small dogs indoors at night as the cougar is known as an ambush hunter that hides in forested areas until it pounces on its prey. Mr. Kruger added that its important for outdoor enthusiasts to avoid forested areas and to take safety precautions while the cougar remains in the Radium area.
He stated that the cougar has not yet become a public safety issue at this point, but anticipates that, if the attacks on wildlife worsen, the cougar could become a candidate for a live capture if the behaviour continues. The goal of the capture would be to attach a tracking device to monitor its actions.
In addition, WildSafe BC community co-ordinator, Andrea Smillie, has been offering safety advice to the Village of Radium Hot Springs community in light of the attacks, and has been posting signs to urge people to take precautions in the area.
To my knowledge, this cougar has killed at least one deer and one sheep in the Radium area, said Ms. Smillie. The conservation officers say this is not unusual behaviour for a cougar, but it is still important for people to be aware.
Here are some safety tips for cougar sightings Smillie has provided, should anyone encounter one:
Pick up small children and pets immediately.
Make yourself look as large as possible (raise your arms) and back away slowly.
Keep your eye on the cougar.
Allow a clear exit for the cougar.
Never turn your back and never run! It could trigger an attack.
If you see a cougar watching you, maintain eye contact and speak in a loud voice to reaffirm you are human (and not an easy target). Back out of the area.
If a cougar follows you or acts aggressively, you must respond aggressively as it now sees you as potential prey. Keep eye contact, yell and make loud noises and show your teeth. Pick up sticks or rocks to use as weapons if necessary, but avoid crouching low to the ground.
If a cougar attacks, fight back! Focus on the facial and eye area. Use anything you have as a weapon. Bear spray is effective for cougars too.
Make sure you report all sightings or conflict to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277. This allows the Conservation Officer Service to at least record the incident.
Winter sees the most cougar sightings/conflict of any season. Children and pets are especially vulnerable to cougar attacks because of their size. For more information on cougars and other wildlife, please visit www.wildsafebc.com/cougar.