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British Columbians do not know enough about how to behave during wildlife encounters: expert

A bear has been spotted in Knox Mountain Park in Kelowna.
A bear has been spotted in Knox Mountain Park in Kelowna. File Photo / Global News

The warmer months bring out local hikers, but they also bring out local wildlife like cougars and bears.

One local wildlife expert said British Columbians do not know enough about how to behave during a wildlife encounter.

READ MORE: Port Moody residents warned after cougar spotted in Bert Flinn Park

Dan Mikolay, a WildSafe B.C. coordinator from Maple Ridge, said despite the increased sightings, it’s just an active time of the year for animals.

“With the juveniles, that means the younger cougars and the younger bears, they’re trying to find where their food sources are and maybe they haven’t learned where all the animals are, so they tend to congregate in more urban areas.”

Bears are one thing, but what about cougars?

The City of Port Moody recently issued a warning to the public about a cougar that was spotted in the southern part of Bert Flinn Park.

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So what should you do if you run into a cougar in a local park or on a trail?

“When you see a cougar, you want to stand your ground. You want to be a predator. You want to look it directly in the eye and be as big as you can. You want to intimidate it.” Mikolay said while appearing on the CKNW Simi Sara Show.

READ MORE: Cougar kills mountain biker, injures another in rare attack near Seattle

What should you do if you are with your child on a trail or in a park and encounter a cougar? According to Mikolay, the advice is very counterintuitive for most parents.

“If you are with a child, put your child in front of you and not behind you.”

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Mikolay saidthe reason is because as a parent, you want to be able to see the child and protect your child. By putting your child behind you, you risk the child panicking and also exposing your neck to the cougar. Mikolay said cougars attack at the neck, so ensure that area is not exposed to the animal.

“As a parent, I would want to put my child behind me, but it actually puts both you in danger. If your child panics and starts running, you will turn your head. Now you’re in danger and your child is the focus. By putting your child in front of you, you both can be big. Have your arms up and then you can control your child and it will make them less nervous and less scared.”

Living amongst bears

Many B.C. residents will never encounter a cougar.

But for people living in many B.C. municipalities including coastal communities next to the mountains such as North Vancouver and Coquitlam, bear sightings are increasingly common.

Mikolay stressed that humans still need to be aware about items that are attractants to bears, such as organics.

READ MORE: Conservation officer attacked by cougar in the Kootenay region

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“If you have bones and meat, what you should do is wrap it in newspaper and freeze it, and then on the morning that you would have your organics picked up, put it into your organics bin so that way the bears can’t smell it.”

If you happen to find yourself face to face with a bear, the tactics for staying safe are different from a cougar.

“No direct eye contact. Again, you want to be big, but you want to walk back slowly.”

Mikolay said that’s because unlike cougars, bears are omnivores and are not considered to be predators. Mikolay also stressed that bear attacks are very rare.

Tips for encountering a cougar

Make yourself big.

Make loud noises.

Maintain eye contact.

Do not turn your head.

Do not leave the area until the cougar leaves.

Tips for encountering a bear

Make yourself big.

Make loud noises.

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Do not look the animal in the eye.

Back away slowly.

Finally, Mikolay stressed that whenever you encounter a wild animal, call the B.C. Conservative Officer Service at 1-877-952-RAPP (7277).