The Wildlife Defence League has launched an online campaign and petition that it will use to pressure the province to ban the popular big cat hunt.
“It feels like this is the evolution of the grizzly hunt ban,” said executive director Tommy Knowles. “We don’t really see the difference between the grizzly bear trophy hunt and the wild cat trophy hunt.”
In 2017, B.C. banned the hunting of grizzly bears, and is now facing a possible class-action lawsuit from guide outfitters who are seeking damages and other restitution from the province for the loss of a lucrative part of their business.
The suit was filed in B.C. Supreme Court in December against the Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development ministry and minister Doug Donaldson. The province has yet to file a response, and the class-action has not yet gone through certification.
“Trophy hunting of wild cats is an outdated practice,” said Knowles. He said 90 per cent of the population is against the trophy hunting of grizzlies, so just as many people are likely against the killing of cats for their “hide, heads and paws.”
He dismissed hunters who claim they are killing the cats for their meat and that the hunt is no different than hunting deer, moose and elk for meat.
He said his organization is determined to end the hunt, which it says is unethical and inhumane because the guides use hounds wearing GPS collars to track and chase the animals up trees before the hunters follow the signal and shoot the cat in the tree.
The campaign also wants the use of hounds banned because it gives the hunter an unfair advantage and because hunted mothers will sometimes separate from their kittens, which leaves the mother vulnerable to being shot (it’s illegal to shoot a mother with kittens).
But hunting proponents have argued that using hounds allows hunters time to examine the cat and only shoot if it is a prized mature tom, freeing the female and immature cats.
They say hunting cougars reduces their conflicts with humans, pets and livestock.
Knowles said it is hard to estimate how many wild cats live in B.C., quoting one study that estimated there are 4,000 across Canada, 3,500 of which are in B.C.
Knowles said there is no need to cull the population because “they self-regulate” when the males disperse into territories in the wild when they overpopulate. He said “hunting as a management tool is unnecessary.”
But banning the hunting of predators, such as wild cats, bears and wolves, will endanger their prey, deer and elk, the numbers of which have been reduced to “abnormally low levels in parts of the province,” said B.C. Wildlife Federation spokesman Jesse Zeman in an email.
And he said more predators mean prey species will move into “residential areas to avoid predators.”
“Sensationalizing legal hunts may yield a few headlines, but (the Wildlife Defence League’s) message is a disservice to conservationists who understand predator-prey relationships,” said federation president Harvey Andrusak. He called them a “fringe group” that should not be given a voice.
Chad Day, the president of the Tahltan Indigenous government in Dease Lake, said in a text he opposes the grizzly and wild cat ban because “we believe in science-based decision making and wildlife management, not populist policies that fail to respect modern-day science, Indigenous knowledge or local knowledge.”
A forests ministry spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question about a possible ban, but said in an email that the hunting of big cats is legal in B.C. and “cougar, lynx and bobcat populations appear stable, and, anecdotally, cougar populations in the Kootenay region (and Peace Region) are increasing,” as the number of bobcats and lynxes.
There are an estimated 245 guide outfitting businesses in B.C. Hunting is a big part of tourism and hunters are among the biggest spenders, with one study estimating they spend $3,000 on average a year on fuel, ammunition, equipment, lodging, food and drink.
One Oliver-area guide charged $10,000 to $15,000 for a big cat hunt, and grizzly guides used to charge hunters $25,000 each.
The B.C. Wildlife Federation said the number of hunters rose from 86,000 in 2005 to 112,000 and the growth is led by women and youth. It says hunting is popular with people who want to source their food and connect with nature.