This chapter will provide you with information on how to keep yourself, your pets, and your children safer while living in cougar territory.
There are many people who live in cougar territory throughout Alberta and British Columbia. While sharing the land with a large cat can sound intimidating, the cougar is one of the least aggressive of the world’s large cats¹, and cougar attacks are rare.
They are solitary animals who have mastered the art of camouflage allowing them to remain extremely elusive. Cougars prefer to remain hidden from sight and avoid people as much as possible and do not view humans as prey². It's important to remember they see us far more than we see them, and prefer it that way. There are a multitude of ways to ensure you can be proactive in living with cougars to reduce the likelihood of conflicts with Canada’s largest wild cat.
Cougar attacks are rare. In fact, you are more likely to be killed in a hunting accident or by a cow than a cougar1. In British Columbia, over the past 100 years, only five deaths have resulted from cougar attacks, with 29 non-fatal attacks occurring during the same time period2. The majority of the attacks, four of the five deaths and 20 of the 29 non-fatal attacks, occurred on Vancouver Island¹. Most attacks involved children under 16 years of age2.
Strategies that can be used at home to reduce conflicts can include, but are not limited to3:
To keep children safer in cougar territory, adults must set expectations, be role models of appropriate behaviours, and supervise children closely. When recreating in cougar habitat, children should not run ahead. Ideally, children should stay between two adults and close enough to either be held by the hand or be within arm's reach¹.
A household pet can attract both cougars and their prey species to your home. A few strategies for keeping pets safer at home include:
Hunting is a controversial way to reduce cougar-livestock conflict. Some consider that removing the cougar will remove the problem. In contrast, hunting disrupts the social structure and population of the cougars in the area. This disruption encourages younger cougars to move into an area which can often lead to increased conflict.
Cougar-livestock coexistence is an ongoing struggle for ranchers, farmers, livestock, and cougars. Failure to practice and implement proactive cougar-livestock coexistence strategies can lead to economic stress for the rancher and the cougar's death.
Studies have found that more cougar-livestock conflicts occur in South and Central America than in North America¹. Factors contributing to this increase in conflict could include dense vegetation, poor animal husbandry, the scarcity of a cougar’s natural prey, proximity to water sources, and a high human/high livestock density¹.
Various strategies have been used in different areas, such as economic compensation and non-lethal ways to remove a problem cougar from an area. In Brazil, electric fences have been installed, Northern Chile has experimented with deterrent lights, and Mexico has used visual and auditory repellents to discourage cougar conflict¹.
Whichever strategy is implemented by a community, it is vital to keep everyone who is impacted by the cougar-livestock conflict involved in determining resolution strategies. The resolution strategies should be thoroughly tested and adapted as needed.
Although each situation is unique, there are a few strategies farmers and ranchers can follow to keep their livestock and hobby animals safe² ³. Please note that this list of strategies does not replace expert consultations.
In the rare event that a cougar encounter occurs¹ ²:
In the extreme and rare chance that a cougar attacks, do not play dead. Instead, fight back with everything and anything you can.
This is the end of our Cougar series in the Knowledge Base. We hope you feel more informed, and better prepared if you were to encounter a cougar.