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Only conservation officers equipped with tranquillizer guns, police say after cougar killed

The question about tranquillizer guns was raised after Victoria police shot and killed a full-grown cougar that had been prowling the Gorge-Selkirk Waterfront area on Tuesday
Nov. 21 cougar victoria THUMB
A cougar spotted off Gorge Road East in Victoria that was later killed by police. Conservation officers were an hour away. VICTORIA POLICE DEPARTMENT

Police on Vancouver Island do not have tranquillizer guns to sedate and relocate wild animals that stray into urban areas.

Only conservation officers are equipped with tranquillizer guns and have the training to use them, Nanaimo RCMP Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien said Thursday.

“I would be shocked if police forces had tranquillizers because then you have to know how much to put into the animal,” said O’Brien. “It’s not like a standard shot. There are smaller animals and larger animals and the conservation officers obviously have training in that.”

The question about tranquillizer guns was raised after Victoria police shot and killed a full-grown cougar that had been prowling the Gorge-Selkirk Waterfront area on Tuesday.

The cougar was first spotted at 5 a.m. on Garbally Road near a school and again at 4 p.m. on nearby Waterfront Crescent.

Conservation officers responded to the initial cougar sighting. Two officers were on site for approximately four hours trying to locate the cougar but did not see the animal, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said in an email.

The officers were eventually called away to deal with other calls, including a bear with two cubs in the Shawnigan Lake area, the service said.

When the cougar was seen later in the afternoon, the closest available conservation officer was an hour away, the service said. At that point, police killed the animal to protect public safety.

On Thursday, Victoria, Saanich and Oak Bay police confirmed they do not have tranquillizer guns.

O’Brien said RCMP officer have Tasers, carbine rifles and other firearms that can be used when a wild animal becomes aggressive, but would not tranquillize a cougar.

“If it’s threatening, we’re going to kill it and shoot it. People don’t like that, but that’s what we’re there for. We’re the last line between the public and the animal.”

Saanich police Sgt. Damian Kowalewich said police rely on the B.C. Conservation Officer Service to assist when animals are tranquillized. “We also defer to them to make those decisions on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Victoria police spokeswoman Const. Terri Healy said the decision to kill the animal “was not made lightly.”

Cougars are unpredictable animals that are difficult to contain, she said.

“We cannot wait until something happens to take action and given the circumstances, there was a high risk to community safety, which is always our priority.”

In July 2018, Nanaimo RCMP shot a cougar that had been climbing through boats and boat sheds at the marina on the shore of Newcastle Island.

“A lot of people live on their boats down there,” said O’Brien. “It was acting in a threatening way.”

In October 2015, a cougar got a quick trip back to the woods after conservation officers tracked it to a townhouse complex on Michigan Street and tranquillized it.

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 ended up being tranquillized.

ldickson@timescolonist.com