Carrying capacity highlighted amid Cougar attack on Vancouver child

A seven year old boy has been airlifted to a Vancouver hospital after a cougar attack near Lake Cowichan.

"At this point we believe there may be two or more cougars involved," conservation officer Ben York told reporters on Friday of last week.

According to reports, the boy sustained injuries to his head, neck and arms after being mauled. Officials believe two cougars were involved in the attack. Authorities were looking for a third cougar in the area later Friday evening.

Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters, told news media that the attack happened about 3:30 p.m. He states conservation officers had shot two cougars in the area by about 6 p.m. “They’re still in the area with their dogs,” he said early Friday evening. “They think there might be a third, so they’re just doing another sweep.”

"From the first look, they're quite thin. They're young cats, not looking like they're doing very well," states Sgt. Scott Norris of the BC Conservation Officer Service. "Cats that are not very well fed are usually the ones who are going to take chances and doing things they shouldn't necessarily be doing."

Friday’s attack marks the 11th reported cougar attack on a human in Vancouver since the turn of the 21st century; including two attacks on children in 2011 and 2015. A two-year-old was attacked on a trail in British Columbia just last year according to reports.

The most recent attack comes as the Vancouver-based Wildlife Defence League has created an online petition demanding a stop to the hunting of cougars, as well as the regulated take of other feline predators such as lynx, and bobcats.

While wildlife attacks on people across North America are rare, the trend seems to be increasing throughout urban areas where hunting activities are less abundant, or, in many cases, non-existent due to suburban limitations and frivolous restrictions. We reported similar commentary on coyote attacks in Montreal and Massachusetts, as well as the spread of rabies in bears across the United States.

In many cases, wild animal attacks on people are driven by illness, disease, or starvation; situations where desperation of survival supersedes an animal’s judgement or fear of humans. These situations are proven to be density dependent - as the abundance of a select species increases, extra strain is placed on remaining resources, which can inevitably lead to depleted food sources, competition of remaining territory, and increased transmission of disease. It’s all about odds - and the odds of survival decrease as the density of a select wild population increases. It’s a concept known as “carrying capacity”.

Regulated hunting and trapping activities are implemented by management professionals to promote a healthy balance of abundant and thriving species through regulated cull - acting as a pressure valve to ensure greater odds of survival amid limited shared resources.

Sgt. Norris’ statements regarding the physical state of the cougars in Friday’s attack seem to corroborate these concepts. Is the recent uptick in human/cougar conflict in British Columbia a natural predatory response from Vancouver cougars exceeding their local carrying capacity limits?

Mayor Peters described the animals in Friday’s attack as being “quite small, possibly a year old”. He said the attack happened in a local subdivision called Point Ideal, which he describes as "just basically at the center of town." He told local media that cougar sightings are “not unheard of” in the community.

As national animal rights and environmental groups continue to demand restrictions on regulated hunting, and legislatively force protections on abundant mammalian predators, people in the broader conservation community question the future direction of wildlife diversity.

Similarly, a paradigm shift in how urban citizens regard continued wildlife suburbanization may also play a role in the future of both regulated hunting practices and a growing urban wildlife control industry.

As we here at Furbearer Conservation continue to explore these concepts, we hope the young boy in Friday’s attack makes a full recovery - and hope this isolated event doesn’t tarnish his future perception of wildlife and our natural world.