The cougar is the largest cat on Vancouver Island. Unlike other big cats, though, the cougar can only make a purring sound. You will never hear one in the forests – a fact that Hollywood seems to be unaware of!
Cougars have slender bodies and round heads with pointed ears. They can reach sizes of up to 2.7 m from head to tail. Males weigh up to 70 kilos, while females weigh in at about 45 kilos. The coat of the cougar is grayish-tan to reddish, with lighter parts on the underside. The tail has a black spot on the end. Sometimes all you see of cougars is their tails disappearing into the trees!
Cougars inhabit various ecosystems: from sea level to mountain tops, and from deserts to deep, dark rain forests. They are very abundant on Vancouver Island.
They prey on deer, but will also feed on smaller animals, including domestic animals & livestock. Being skilled hunters, cougars stalk from a hidden spot and pounce on their prey from behind. Cougars can also climb trees with ease, and leap distances over 6.5 m. They hide their catch and return to feed on it for days.
This cat has no natural enemies on Vancouver Island and is at the top of the food chain. They do, however, have disputes with bears & wolves, on occasion. Cougars are generally solitary creatures, interacting only to mate. Females can breed once they reach 2 – 3 years of age, usually giving birth to 2 or sometimes 3 young, at a time. Female cougars take charge of raising the young, while males return to their solitary lifestyles. The females will defend their young against any animal that appears to be a threat – even grizzly bears or man.
By the end of its 2nd year, a young cougar will leave its mother, to begin life on its own. Cougars can live up to 10 years in the wild but have reached the old age of 20 in captivity. Cougar populations in North America have been getting smaller, due to hunting and loss of habitat, but there is still a very large population on Vancouver Island.
There are usually a small number of cougar attacks on humans every year on Vancouver Island. When you are in the Island’s forests, you should always be careful, and aware of your surroundings. If you do see a cougar, and it seems interested in you, raise your arms up above your head so that you appear bigger, and back away from it slowly. Never run – as this could signal a chase response from it.