PORT McNEILL—Former North Island resident and author received a warm — and interactive — response this week as she returned to the region as part of a promotional tour for her new book, Cougar: Wild, Beautiful and Dangerous.
“The response has been really good,” Wild said Sunday following her one-hour, illustrated presentation at Gate House Community Theatre in Port McNeill. “After all, this is the cougar capital of the world, and you’ve had a real outbreak of cougar incidents recently. There has been a lot of interest.”
Wild, who now lives in Courtenay, spent several years in Port Alice in the early 1970s, then moved to Sointula where she remained until 1988.
“There were no attacks in Port Alice when I lived there,” she said. “They really started in the ‘90s, and in talking to the Ministry of the Environment, they indicated the deer population crashed in the ‘90s.”
The Cougar is a project three years in the making, said Wild. During painstaking research, she spoke to experts across North America who discussed everything from the animal’s history, habitat and behaviour to impacts from human encroachment and alteration of the landscape through logging, mining and other activity. She also discusses, of course, reported attacks on humans by cougars, including some highly publicized encounters on Vancouver Island.
“I was amazed how people were so generous with their time,” said Wild. “The main thing I took away from it was that co-existing with cougars shouldn’t be about fear — it should be about knowledge. We need them to help keep balance in nature.”
Much of her presentation — and the response she’s received to it across B.C. since launching the book in Courtenay — has been about preventing attacks by cougars upon humans while they’re hiking or otherwise enjoying nature.
One woman at Sunday’s presentation in Port McNeill asked if it was true that opening an umbrella at a cougar could scare it away. Wild said the animals’ behaviour can vary widely from individual to individual, but did note bear spray can be an effective deterrent, and added research has shown loud and prolonged noise — as from, say, a whistle — can also cause the predator to move along.
“Generally, if a cougar is within five metres, it’s probably already made up its mind whether it’s going to attack,” she said. “What you want to do is stop it as far away as possible. And a prolonged, loud blast on a whistle may be able to do that. It’s also a good option for parents wanting to protect their children; it’s not practical to have young children walking around with bear spray or fixed-blade knives.”
The children got to hear the message first hand Monday when Wild took her presentation to the students of Sunset Elementary and North Island Secondary schools in Port McNeill.
The North Island leg of Wild’s tour included stops in Port Alice last week and in Sointula, earlier Sunday during Winterfestival. The presentation drew 35 people to the Sointula Fire Hall, and another 30 turned out in Port McNeill later Sunday afternoon.
“It’s been great to see so much interest in the book,” she said. And people are asking some great questions.”