Cougar sighting reported near Porter Creek school

Recess was cut short Friday for Jack Hulland Elementary School students after a neighbour called in a cougar sighting in the area.

Recess was cut short Friday for Jack Hulland Elementary School students after a neighbour called in a cougar sighting in the area.

The neighbour said she saw a cougar in her Porter Creek backyard, said Ken Knutson with Yukon Environment. She also called the school to let them know.

The students were on lunch break when they got the call, said Chris Madden with the Education Department.

“It was just a few minutes before the bell was going to ring, so they rang the bell a few minutes early, brought the students in.”

The school also called Yukon Environment to inform them of the reported sighting, he said.

Students and staff were then advised to be mindful of wildlife in the area, said Madden.

“Make sure you’re walking on the street and in groups, and that you’re not taking the trails for shortcuts. The whole school community was advised of that immediately.”

Since the incident, the school continues to have recess normally, said Madden. The school yard is fenced in and teachers are always supervising.

“Everybody is just keeping their eyes open. So far it seems as though that sighting was an isolated incident.”

Yukon Environment responded by sending a conservation officer to the area, said Knutson.

However, the cougar sighting could not be confirmed.

“Without actually finding any hard evidence of the animal or actually seeing it, there’s not much we can do about it,” said Knutson. “Like a lot of Whitehorse, it has greenbelts and brush around it and forest and that sort of thing. If it was there, and it disappeared into that, we’re not going to track it down or anything.”

Cougars are notoriously elusive animals and sightings are rare in the Yukon. It is believed cougars have been following the mule deer north from B.C.

“We’re getting enough calls about cougars being seen nowadays, I think it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that they are here,” said Knutson.

Many of the same safety rules that apply to bears and other wildlife apply to cougars as well, he said.

“All of us need to be vigilant all the time, when we live in the place we live.”

If you see a cougar, don’t panic or run away, since it might think that you are prey.

Instead, talk to the animal to let it know that you are human, and slowly back away, if possible.

“They don’t generally seek out conflict with humans,” said Knutson.

If a cougar does attack, however, playing dead is not recommended.

“Fight back with a weapon, such as pepper spray, rocks or sticks,” advises the Yukon Environment website. “Focus on attacking the cougar’s face and eyes. Do what you can to let the cougar know you are a threat and not prey.”

Yukon Environment tries to get into all the schools in the spring to do bear safety training, said Knutson. In future years, the program could be expanded to include other kinds of animals, he said.

Any cougar sightings should be immediately reported to Yukon Environment, he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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