Cougars and elk and bears, oh my! Animals go wild at Cowichan Lake

Nature has been wreaking havoc in the Cowichan Lake area lately.

Nature has been wreaking havoc in the Cowichan Lake area lately, with no fewer than three noteworthy close encounters between humans and wild animals recently.

On Tuesday night, a hungry bear wandered into a garage in Lake Cowichan while two boys were skinning a deer, scaring them into the rafters before making off with the carcass.

“A bear actually entered the garage and took the deer that was hanging there right off the hook and beetled off out of the garage,” Lake Cowichan RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Wes Olsen said. “When the bear came into the garage, the boys actually climbed up into the rafters of the garage to get out of the way. The bear absconded with deer and headed off into the bush.”

The boys, ages 13 and 18, weren’t hurt in the incident, but the twice-hunted deer was going to be dinner, one way or another.

“Police obviously didn’t pursue the bear into the woods,” Olsen said.

Instead they contacted the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

Conservation officer Sgt. Scott Norris was in Lake Cowichan on Wednesday to investigate the bear and other reported animal encounters, and discovered some additional details.

“The garage door was closed, but the bear pushed the door open and poked his head in.”

Norris and other conservation officers tracked it over the Trans Canada Trail, between the house and the old A.B. Greenwell School. Finding the partially consumed deer, they decided to use it as bait.

“We’re assuming the bear would come back for it so we’ve got a trap set at the location with the deer carcase placed in it. We’re hoping the bear will come back and go into the trap.”

Norris and his team talked to area residents for more details.

“People are saying he’s very bold and is actually approaching people; we haven’t had these reports before today but it seems this bear is quite habituated. We’re deeming this bear to be a public safety risk.”

It’s time to act, he said.

“We believe this bear has to be removed, based on its danger to the public. It’s entering buildings now, chasing people off food, scaring two kids up into the rafters of a garage. Thank goodness they had rafters to escape to; otherwise there might have been a different outcome.”

But this bear likes variety when it comes to food.

“We also had a report of it breaking into a chicken coop yesterday but we couldn’t track that down today.

“We see this bear getting worse unless we actually catch it and remove it so we’re really urging the public to report anything in the way of aggressive behaviour towards people, especially if it’s following people,” he said.

Norris also reminded people: never run from a bear, never feed a bear, and keep food locked away. Also, keep dogs on leashes when walking the Trans Canada Highway.

In another wildlife incident at Cowichan Lake, police were notified Tuesday of a possible cougar sighting at Youbou Road and Adelina Lane. The cat is believed to be a male, about six feet long, and has reportedly been in the area about three days.

“We will respond to them if something’s going on and people need assistance for pubic safety,” Olsen said. “but generally, when we get these kind of calls we refer them to Conservation because that’s up their alley.”

Norris noted that his group had no success tracking down the cougar.

“We’ve heard of a cougar in Youbou following people, but we haven’t been actually able to verify that,” he said. “However, there are various calls about a cougar hanging around town; there was a report this morning of it lying out, sunning itself. It was gone by the time we got up there, though.”

The safety advice for cougars is similar to that for bears: never run, get your hands in the air, make yourself look at big.

“If a cougar does approach you, do whatever you need to do to deter it,” Norris said. “Throw rocks, throw sticks, fight back, just make sure that cougar knows you’re not prey.

Also in Youbou, an elk problem has also garnered attention from conservation officers, largely the result of residents feeding them.

“They are losing their fear of humans and, once they do, there is always the risk that they are going to view people as a food source,” Norris said. “Do you really want a six point bull elk, who weighs 1,000 pounds, following you and pushing you to try to get food from you?

“Give the elk lots of distance. At this time of year, they’re starting to go into the rut. We had reports of two of them sparring on the road in Youbou yesterday, damaging trees and gardens.

Norris noted that officers have had to visit Youbou to haze elk with rubber bullets, something they can do when people feel threatened.

Anyone who encounters these or any other aggressive animals should contact the RAPP (Report All Poacher and Polluters) line at 1-877-952-7277.