PORT McNEILL—One cougar was treed and shot last Tuesday near the area where an RCMP corporal and his wife were attacked by a cougar while walking their small dogs one day earlier.
But another cougar is believed to remain in the general area of Port McNeill and, as of Tuesday this week, had eluded Conservation Officer Service attempts to catch it using a live trap.
Last week’s killing came at the end of two days of multiple cougar sightings in and around townl, which prompted the lockdown of local schools and daycare centres and led to a search involving the CO service and a cougar dog handler.
“It is believed the destroyed cougar was the same cat involved with the conflict on (Monday),” Conservation Officer Steve Petrovcic said. “It is believed the cougar observed in town (Monday) evening is a different cat.”
The adult male cougar was destroyed about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, near the Cedar Park Resort golf course at the east end of Mine Road. The CO service was called by a woman who noticed her dogs barking at the base of a tree and looked up to see a cougar climbing an adjacent tree, said Cst. Chis Voller of Port McNeill’s RCMP detachment.
After the CO service called the RCMP, Voller and Cst. Amron Russell went to the site and were joined by dog handler Tom McKenzie and a civilian, Chase McLeod, who was already on the scene with a rifle. The officers contacted the CO which, after getting a description of the cat and learning how close it was to the site of an attack on humans the day before, authorized its shooting.
Two shots by McLeod took the cougar down and McKenzie’s Plott hound located it.
“We took some basic biological measurements and then disposed of the animal,” said Cst. Voller. “It was a very healthy looking, adult male, approximately 125 pounds. The most troubling thing was that it wasn’t emaciated and didn’t have a reason to be going after human prey. But it was acting aggressively toward people, and that played an integral part in the decision to destroy it.”
The day before, off-duty RCMP Cpl. Carl McIntosh and his wife Katherine were walking a remote stretch of Mine Road with their Chinese Crested dogs shortly before noon when they were stalked and approached by a large cougar.
Having occasionally encountered black bears on their regular walks of the road, the couple seemed well-equipped for an attack, possession both bear spray — “this stuff is 10 times as potent as the spray we use in the RCMP,” McIntosh said — and percussive bear bangers.
But the large male cougar, which McIntosh estimated between 120 and 140 pounds, was unaffected by the spray and the loud report of the bear banger merely slowed its approach.
“I was terrified,” said McIntosh. “But, in hindsight, it was impressive how he kept the tactical advantage at all times. He kept our dogs upwind so they never scented him, he cut off our egress by getting between us and the woods, and adapted to the situation rapidly.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of scary people in my job, but I’ve never seen anyone adapt to a situation like that.”
McIntosh said the most surprising element of the attack was that the cougar kept its focus on the RCMP officer, who stands nearly six feet tall and weighs 215 pounds, and not the small dogs.
“He could have easily pinged one of the dogs off its leash,” he said. “But he showed no interest in the dogs. The only thing I can speculate is that he saw me as an impediment to his meal.”
The couple finally escaped the stalking cougar with a little luck — the sudden arrival of local logger Shane Murdoch in his truck. While Carl continued to face the big cat while fumbling with his Blackberry phone to dial 911, Katherine flagged down the truck.
“She yelled, ‘We’re being stalked by a cougar!’ and literally threw the dogs into his truck,” Carl said. “I think that’s as close an encounter as you can have with a wild animal and not get injured.”
The report of the attack brought Petrovcic from his Black Creek office, along with dog handler Tom McKenzie, to try to track the cougar. But later the same day, even as they were searching the Mine Road area, a motorist traveling down Campbell Way was startled when a cougar broke from the bush near the Haida-Way Inn and loped across the street toward the Black Bear Resort.
“We were already in the area and no more than two minutes to get on scene with that sighting,” said Petrovcic. “The dog did show some interest and followed the scent for a distance. But it got into some heavy blackberries on the hill and we believe it ran off to the west.
Then, on Tuesday morning, Petrovcic got yet another report.
“One of the high school students thought they saw a cougar on the trail head here,” he said. “I was still in town, and got the dog handler and we made a throughout search of the area. Unfortunately, we found no cougar.”
Sunset Elementary and Little Stars Daycare Centre were notified and both were placed on lockdown while the search went on.
“We had about five calls this morning, including one from the RCMP,” Little Stars operator Leighann Ruel said through a window of the centre. “It’s kind of unfortunate to be trapped inside with 19 children who’d rather be outside. Normally they’d be out right now.”
After returning from his search, Petrovcic entered North Island Secondary School and reviewed protocol for students walking in town, including traveling in groups, making yourself as large as possible and not turning your back if approached by a cougar, and making loud, threatening noises to assure a cougar you are not prey.
On Wednesday School District 85 sent a notice to families of students in Port McNeill, notifying them elementary students would be released at lunch or after school will be released only to the care of an adult or guardian, and that buses will deliver Hyde Creek and Nimpkish Heights students as close to their home address as possible.
“We’re asking folks to be extra diligent,” said Petrovcic. “Scan well ahead of yourself when walking, and if you do see a cougar use our call centre number, 1-877-952-7277.”