Cougar photo was faked, Oak Bay police say

A girl’s story and a photograph she claimed to have taken of a cougar after seeing a big cat lying on the grass on Central Avenue on Oct. 16 have turned out to be bogus, Oak Bay police said.

After the B.C. Conservation Service confirmed the animal in the photo the 13-year-old girl claimed to have taken in the Oak Bay neighbourhood was indeed a cougar, conservation officers joined police in a futile search.

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The girl had cropped a photo of a cougar that was shot and killed in Edmonton last year, and that had appeared in news reports online, and saved it on her cellphone.

“It just goes to show what happens when people make a report that they know to be false, how it can impede an investigation. It’s a very serious matter,” Oak Bay Const. Rick Anthony said.

“In this case, we won’t be pursuing charges, though. This was a tall tale that got out of hand,” he said.

The girl has been interviewed with her parents by police and “is very remorseful” and upset, Anthony said.

Police explained to her that such actions could be construed as the criminal offence of public mischief.

“She now understands the gravity of it,” said Anthony, emphasizing her action shouldn’t be confused with a hoax, “which is done with malice aforethought. This was innocently done.”

Since information received during the weekend led police to investigate the false claim, parents, neighbours and officials at Monterey Middle School nearby have been contacted by police.

While Oak Bay police now consider the matter concluded, they said it was important to acknowledge that it was a false report to reassure the public, which has been bombarded recently with news about alleged cougar sightings in the capital region.

“We take them all seriously, but they have been reports, not [confirmed] sightings,” Anthony said.

“It’s not inconceivable that we’ll see more, but it’s not like there’s a conga line of cougars coming down to set up camp in Oak Bay,” he said.

“They’ve come before and they’ll come again, but we have to quell this uprising of fear.”

mreid@timescolonist.com

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