Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen)

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen)

Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

Nature always has a way of coming into balance.

For a time, deer and cougars roamed Vancouver Island in relatively dense populations. Cougar populations are closely interconnected with their prey, as deer provide a vital source of food for the carnivores.

Up until the late 1970s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the ‘90s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land.

Provincial large carnivore specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have also impacted cougar density on the Island, as they had less to eat, and wolves will tend to eat some cougar cubs. Mowat highlighted that the Sunshine Coast, a similar habitat to the Island, is home to both wolves and cougars, and has never seen the highs in deer populations that the Island saw in the 1980s.

“We have nowhere near as good of data on cougars here, as compared to somewhere like Yellowstone, but I think it is fair to say that as wolves recovered on Vancouver Island there was some competition with cougars,” said Mowat. “The trend in cougar numbers is down to something like a third of what it was before. My guess is that it’s a competitive effect with wolves.”

RELATED: Co-existence with cougars possible

Mowat said as more wolves started appearing and deer populations declined, more cougars found themselves with inadequate food and were getting into conflicts with people. Since the 1990s, deer density has not recovered compared to where it was.

“Now populations may have balanced off. I haven’t heard about cougars attacking people on Vancouver Island for years,” said Mowat. “The attacks in the ‘80s and ‘90s could have been more food driven on the cougars’ part.”

Cougars need a territory of about 10 square kilometres, and during breeding season a male’s territory may increase two or three times in size while they search for a mate.

“They don’t just wander randomly, they are very territorial,” said Mowat. “Adult males will kill or injure young males that wander through searching for their own territory. Females have a home range, but you don’t hear as much about them trying to dissuade other cougars from entering their territory.”

Cougars are a solitairy, nocturnal animal who eat almost any prey they can capture. Most of the Island’s population appear reddish brown in colour and a fully grown male will weigh about 70 kg. Mowat said cougars, as well as other predators, play an important role in an ecosystem, as they limit herbivore foraging on plants and young trees, and control the smaller mammal population.

Mowat noted that the biggest impact on cougar populations overall, however, has been due to human development.

“A parking lot is not a good habitat for virtually any animal,” said Mowat. “We need to think about better ways of living together with cougars, because when there is a conflict with a cougar, it usually ends up being killed.”

READ ALSO: B.C. man rescues dog that was trapped for 43 hours inside hidden well


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Up until the late 1970’s, deer populations on Vancouver Island were spiking, but began to decline through the 90’s, around the same time wolves began to recolonize the land. Provincial Large Carnivore Specialist Garth Mowat speculates this factor could have impacted cougar density on the Island. (Black Press file photo: Supplied by Conservation Northwest)

Just Posted

This photo shows crews the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents early Sunday morning. (Central Saanich Fire/Department Twitter)
Central Saanich rallies around couple who lost home of 25 years

A GoFundMe campaign is currently underway for Carla and Brian Wallace

The government map (as of April 22) showing vaccine availability doesn’t have any Saanich Peninsula pharmacies listed, but the situation is fluid, and many readers have already registered. (Province of B.C. screenshot)
Vaccine availability a fluid situation for Saanich Peninsula

Government site may not show pharmacies, but registering still an option

Volunteers with the Esquimalt Farmers Market will be on hand at Bullen Field to direct attendees and clarify public health protocols. The market runs Thursdays now through Sept. 16, from 4:30-7:30 p.m. (Facebook/Esquimalt Farmers Market)
Esquimalt Farmers Market continues tonight at Bullen Field

Award-winning market features farm-fresh products, food trucks, COVID-19 protocols for safety

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read