Over a week in February 2021 a family of cougars killed a dog and stalked an elderly couple as well as a teenager before one of the animals was eventually euthanized.
Documents recently released through a freedom of information request shed light on the way conservation officers used witness reports, a video and trail cam footage to track the elusive cougars.
The first reports of cougar sightings started to roll in on the morning of Feb. 12, 2021, when one resident spotted a large cougar in a Coquitlam backyard and another noticed a cougar approximately a block away from Leigh Elementary School.
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Conservation officers appealed to RCMP for help but both foot and vehicle patrols failed to yield any sign of the cougar.
The cougar was spotted again around the Leigh Elementary school later that day. Conservation officers scoured the area but failed to find any trace of the cougar.
That evening, at around 11 p.m., a dog owner let their pup into the backyard.
“[The] cougar grabbed her small pug puppy from right in front of her and left with it,” according to a report filed by a conservation officer.
Officers searched for both the cougar and for the remains of the dog but were unable to find either and eventually set a trap.
The problem with traps
At least one conservation officer noted the challenges of snagging a cougar in a trap, according to released text messages.
“Generally we struggle to capture anything in those cages due to situation, location and topography,” the officer texted.
Officers eventually used a host of visual attractants including feathers, foam balls, twine and a disco ball to lure the cougars.
Not including RCMP time, conservation officers spent more than 70 hours responding to tips and tracking the animals.
Close call at Norm Staff
The next evening, conservation officers responded to a report that a cougar stalked an on-leash dog at Norm Staff Park.
The cougar advanced on the pup. The dog owner scooped up his pup when the cougar was about six feet away. “. . . the cougar still looked like it was going to attack even with the dog in his arms,” according to the report.
According to text messages, one officer started referring to sentiment in the community as “cougar fever” and “cougaritis.” Reports also noted that residents had named the mother cougar Diamond.
With snow still on the ground, officers were able to track the cougar’s prints, eventually pinpointing a location across Coast Meridian Road at Smiling Creek Elementary. However, due to thick forest and the lack of police backup, the search was called off.
“Turned back as no longer safe and didn’t have RCMP anymore,” read a text message sent by a conservation officer.
A measurement of the prints and video recorded by a neighbour revealed they were looking for what one officer called a “big ol’ kitty”
Shortly after, conservation officers began to suspect they were dealing with a family of cougars.
The next day, a resident described a cougar as big as a German shepherd wandering through the playground at Millard Park.
On Feb. 15, two cougars stalked an elderly couple with two dogs.
The sighting was reported by a driver who witnessed the scene, leaning on the horn and eventually driving their car between the couple and the cougars.
On Feb. 16, conservation officers spent the day with hounds to follow-up on the sighting. Officers also cautioned the school superintendent that recess should be closely supervised and small children shouldn’t walk home alone.
That same day, a 14-year-old boy was stalked by two cougars.
At that point, officers categorized the cougar as posing “a serious public safety threat,” meaning the animal would be euthanized rather than captured.
Shortly afterward, officers hunted for the cougars in the trails off Cedar Drive. Another officer tried to use hounds to track the cougars.
After hearing two cougars communicating, the officers near Cedar Drive found and euthanized one of the animals.
“Dispatched cougar and removed carcass,” the officer’s report stated.
Officers were unable to find the other cougar.
Two days later, a preschool sent a notice that a cougar was spotted at the end of the street.
Keeping the public informed
Not all of the tips were helpful. At one point, officers were called to investigate a cougar sighting and found a deer standing at the “exact location” described. The caller later advised “it may have been a deer.”
Similarly, a Port Moody cougar sighting turned out to be a bobcat. Another report from a witness seemed to take longer than the responding officer would have liked.
“Painfully long conversation with the lady in Port Moody that saw a cougar,” the text reads. “She wanted me to come out and look at the prints. I was like what is the point of looking at prints when you saw a cougar right after? I have no doubt it’s a cougar. Send me the pictures if you want lol.”