The frightening cougar attack on a young girl in Squamish last week sent me back to Terry Glavin's fine book, Waiting for the Macaws (Viking Canada, 2006).
In the book, Glavin has a chapter on cougars that focusses on Vancouver Island and particularly on Port Alice, the west coast pulp mill town where cougar attacks are not as uncommon as they have been in Squamish. Several years ago I arrived in Port Alice with my son who was going to spend a summer there working at the mill. Almost the first thing our guide to the town told us was to be careful when the deer were seen down by the road, it meant that a cougar was on the prowl. Welcome to Port Alice!
Glavin makes the point that the incidence of attacks by cougars on humans has increased dramatically during the past few decades, not just on Vancouver Island but across North America. The reason? As humans penetrate deeper into cougar country -- logging and building homes, shopping malls, golf courses, whatever -- we are not only coming face to face with the predator more often but we are also driving away the wildlife, particularly the deer, on which cougar depend. As a result cougar populations are declining at the same time as encounters are increasing. On Vancouver Island the population is around 300-400 animals, down 50% over the past decade or so.
It is good to remember that the little girl in Squamish survived with minor injuries. The cougar ended up dead, shot by wildlife officials.