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Nabbed in James Bay, cougar’s next stop is wilderness

A cougar got a quick trip back to the woods after searchers tracked it Monday to a James Bay townhouse complex on Michigan Street and tranquillized it.

A cougar got a quick trip back to the woods after searchers tracked it Monday to a James Bay townhouse complex on Michigan Street and tranquillized it.

In a dramatic moment during the search, the cougar took a big leap and soared past three police officers who had been tracking it with dogs.

The animal, a male about 18 months old and weighing around 80 pounds, was shot twice with a tranquillizer gun and carefully placed in a barrel for transport about 10 a.m. Conservation officer Peter Pauwels said the cougar was relocated “as far away from human civilization as I can get on southern Vancouver Island”: in the Fleet River area, between Port Renfrew and Mesachie Lake.

“It looks in pretty good condition, a little on the thin side but not too bad.”

Victoria police received a call about a James Bay cougar sighting about 7 p.m. Sunday, another at 3 a.m. Monday and then more through the course of Monday morning.

Pauwels said the animal was likely the same one spotted recently in Oak Bay. “It’s just a cougar that wandered into town, into populated areas.”

He said the cougar did not present a significant threat. “Cougars, when they get into these areas, they’re scared, they’re trying to find a way out, they’re hiding for the most part, they’re coming out at night. But I don’t think this thing was ever inclined to attack somebody.”

Pauwels said it might have grabbed a rabbit or a house cat if the opportunity arose.

Police took the precaution of locking down nearby schools and posting officers close to them, said Victoria police acting Sgt. Mike Darling.

“Obviously the animal is very fast-moving,” he said. “And it could easily break through where we were and make it to a school, so all the students were told to stay inside.”

Darling said anyone spotting a cougar should report it. “So call 911, stay inside your residence, don’t try to approach the animal or follow it. It’s better just that we have a sighting and the last location that we can work from.”

Pauwels said it’s been an average year in terms of sightings.

“Cougars are active all year, so the time of the year doesn’t really factor into this,” he said.

On Monday, the cougar was running around between yards before the opportunity to tranquillize it arose, Pauwels said.

Carol Smith, who lives at the townhouse complex where the cougar ended up, said she felt sorry for the animal. “No animal’s going to come into a built-up area through choice.”

She said she saw the tranquillizer take its effect on the cougar. “He just sort of turned around in a little half-circle and collapsed,” Smith said. The cougar raised its head and looked around before passing out.

“I think from his point of view, it was probably relatively painless.”

Nearby resident Theo DeHaan said he was happy the cougar could be tranquillized. “It’s a beautiful animal,” he said.

A cougar was also found in James Bay in 1998, when one walked into Scott Plastics through an open door and was later tranquillized.

In 1989, a cougar jumped through a window into a James Bay basement suite while the resident was home, prompting her to hide in the closet. Animal control officers arrived and the cougar had to be shot.

Downtown Victoria had an incident in 1992 when a cougar made its way into the parkade at the Empress Hotel. It ended up being tranquillized.