Residents of the Mowachat/Muchalaht First Nation’s community of Tsaxana are urged to be cautious while outdoors after three cougars were seen lurking on the reserve near Gold River.
Tsaxana resident Allie Amos said a mother and two babies were recently spotted in the community, making a den between two homes, an area where her eight-year-old brother plays.
“There’s a hill in between those two places and they embedded up there,” said Johnson. “My brother Darren actually plays up on that hill every day.”
The babies were shot and killed by a resident and a conservation officer, but the mother ran away and wasn’t shot. Currently the First Nation is seeking permission from the BC Conservation Officer Service to track down the surviving mountain lion.
“The mother is provoked and still running around the reserve, looking for her babies,” said Johnson, who saw a full-sized cougar in her driveway this week. “I think it was the mother. I came home from work and it was just laying in front of my grandpa’s truck. I got my grandma to honk at it and it wasn’t even phased.”
According to a University of Victoria study, an estimated 600-800 cougars live on Vancouver Island, comprising as much as one fifth of B.C.’s mountain lion population. This gives Vancouver Island the highest concentration of cougars in North America.
Mowachaht/Muchalaht Tyee Ha’wilth Michael Maquinna said that cougars are usually seen in Tsaxana each spring.
“Usually the single ones will just come and go,” he said. “If they’re in pairs they’ll stick around longer.”
Johnson believes the trio had been in Tsaxana for over four weeks. A few months ago a home in Gold River caught three cougars on camera, leading some to suspect the family relocated to the reserve.
“I guess that they just moved up here,” she said. “We all thought that they moved on and that they just left Gold River, but I guess they’ve been hiding here for a while.”
Johnson said the community was cougar territory before the First Nation relocated to the reserve in the 1990s.
“When we chose to move up to this spot to make our reserve there were a lot of cougar dens that had to be broken down so that we could build our homes,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for cougars to be coming here as much as they do because this used to be their home.”
“Certainly, we are in coexistence with the animals,” noted Maquinna. “Over the spring and summer the animals are out there, particularly cougars, so be mindful of them.”
Although cougars are spread throughout Vancouver Island, the stealthy animals are seldom seen. While attacks on people are rare, WildSafe BC says small children are most at risk.
“If you notice that a cougar is watching you, maintain eye contact with the cougar and speak to it in a loud firm voice,” advises the organization. “Reinforce the fact that you are a human and not an easy target.”