This isn’t Jellystone National Park, and chances are pretty good that Yogi Bear won’t be trying to steal your picnic basket this summer. Picnic basket or not, you still could be attracting the attention of your furry neighbours without even knowing it.
“We are lucky to live in a place that is also home to bears and cougars,” says Nitya Harris, “and if we choose to live in bear and cougar country, it is our responsibility to know what habits and actions attract these animals and what we need to do to avoid conflict.”
Harris chairs the Coexisting with Carnivores Alliance, a regional group that works with government and community to prevent human conflict with bears, cougars and wolves.
“Bear (sightings) tend to go up and down every year. The summer of 2013 was extremely busy, 2014 not as busy, and 2015 is expected to be an average year,” said Peter Pauwels, regional conservation officer for Vancouver Island.
Conversely, cougar sightings have remained relatively the same over the past 20 to 30 years, with any rise in the trends being accounted to more people living in the area.
“Sightings for both species are most likely to occur during the summer. It’s lighter for longer in the day,” said Pauwels. “People are out hiking and biking.”
He added that in the winter months people are more likely to be inside, which makes sightings more rare, especially since bears hibernate in the winter.
If you do encounter a bear or cougar, Pauwels said, “Don’t approach the animal, give the animal an avenue of escape, and get out of its way.”
Harris encourages West Shore residents to be bear wise and cougar aware with a few simple tips.
• Put garbage and kitchen scraps out the morning of collection day (not the night before).
• Store garbage in a secure location like a garage, shed or basement and dispose of it regularly.
• Keep containers clean, with lids tightly closed and out of the sun to help prevent odours that will attract animals.
• Line the bottom of totes and layer compost with paper products to help absorb moisture, minimizing clean-up and odours.
• Store proteins, especially fish and bones, in the freezer until collection day to reduce odours and insects.
While hungry bears are scavengers with great memories of food sources, cougars will cover a large territory and may stop in an urban area if prey are in the neighbourhood.
To avoid conflict with cougars:
• Keep pets like small dogs and cats indoors at night.
• Feed pets inside or bring in uneaten food as the smell might attract cougars or potential prey.
• Keep bird feeders clean and the ground under them clear will also help deter rodents and other animals, like deer, that often fall prey to cougars.
• Small livestock and chickens are also easy targets, so maintaining an electrical fence and keeping feed properly secured will help deter cougars.
• The ultimate deterrence is not feeding deer or other wild animals as they can attract larger predators into residential areas.