One of Chilliwack’s most popular hiking spots was evacuated and shut down Wednesday morning after several people came across an aggressive cougar.
Lori and Brian Johnson were heading up Teapot Hill around 11 a.m. with their chihuahua on a leash. They were nearing the top when Lori heard a rustling in the bushes next to her. Thinking it was a rabbit, she was stunned to see the cougar looking back at her, no more than two feet away.
Brian turned around, grabbed a couple sticks and handed the dog to Lori.
While she slowly retreated up the hill, waving the sticks at the cougar, the animal stood its ground.
“At first it was pretty scary, and I had to collect my thoughts and think, ‘How do I deal with this?’” he recalled. “My first thought was, ‘Do I throw these sticks at him?’ But I didn’t want to make him mad. He wasn’t scared of me at all.”
Lori reached the top and realized she was trapped, with a fence at her back and nowhere to go.
She started praying.
“I was a mess, and I certainly believe in divine intervention,” she said. “I was just waiting for my husband to get torn up.”
That thought crossed Brian’s mind as well.
“Oh yeah! This cat was hungry and he meant business,” he said. “He stared me down and when he took a couple steps towards me, I thought it was going to be a fight.”
Then, the cat left.
Moments later a jogger came up the trail. The Johnsons had called 9-1-1 and were advised to come down the hill in one group, gathering anyone else they came across.
On the way down, they saw three more people with a dog running loose. They yelled at them to get their pooch on a leash.
By the time they reached the fork in the trail, RCMP and conservation officers were on the way up, and they heard about another hiker, with a dog, who’d seen the cougar, panicked, ran away and been chased by the cat.
Sgt. Steve Jacobi from the Conservation Officer Service (COS) said the cougar was spotted six times on the trail.
He and other officers searched the area, looking for something the cougar may have been protecting — recently downed prey for instance.
They found nothing.
“It’s not protecting anything and there’s not a lot of prey in area. Some small rabbits, but not much of a deer population,” Jacobi noted. “We get cougars moving through that area, but when they encounter people they usually run away.”
His best explanation, this cougar is too young to know any better.
“Everyone says it looks like a healthy small-sized cougar, and it’s probably far more interested in dogs than humans,” Jacobi said. “It’s probably immature, and still trying to find its own territory. It’s in the cougar equivalent of teenage years and it’s not quite sure what the right thing to do is.”
Cougar houndsmen were working the hill Wednesday afternoon, using bloodhounds to pick up the cat’s scent.
If it stays in the area and keeps moving, Jacobi is confident they’ll find it.
In the meantime, he recommends staying away from Teapot Hill. And it anyone does come across the cougar, he’s got some tips.
“Don’t turn around and run because its instincts will kick in and it’ll be on top of you. Scream and yell and making sure the cougar knows you’re not prey but something different,” he advised. “Pick up a stick and hit it in the face. Preferably the nose and not the body. And if you get knocked over stay on your butt and use your feet to kick it. Ninety-nine per cent of the time you’ll be OK.”
When found, the cougar will be put down.
Jacobi says relocation is not an option.