for August 2011 by Deborah Greaves : The Golden Hunters
Around the time our family moved to the Okanagan Valley in 1996, a powerful, quick-witted and incredibly brave woman, Cindy Parolin, died in the mountains in the jaws of one of North America’s most fabulous wild creatures.
The woman who died so courageously was not the predator’s intended victim. The creature had chosen Cindy’s youngest son, mounted on the smallest horse. When her child was dragged to the ground, Parolin beat off the attacker, shouting to her older children to rush the wounded child to safety and summon help.
Now the mother’s own body was in the grip of the assailant’s jaws. Parolin managed to fight for her life for an hour, but ultimately lost her battle. The heroic Cindy Parolin, in her mid-thirties, was killed near Tulameen, BC by a cougar.
Cindy Parolin is a member of a fairly large club. Almost every year, several people in Western Canada or the Western US are attacked by huge golden cats. There have been many maulings and deaths of humans and their pets. The exquisite cougar, usually silent and unseen by human eyes, is often a lethal hunter.
I’m not writing these lines to deter you from enjoying the “super natural” lands that surround the Okanagan Valley. Time spent in natural land is good for the human soul. However, I’m telling you about Cindy Parolin to remind all wilderness visitors to be respectful - and wary-
of the wild inhabitants there.
Certain incidents are unavoidable, but most animal attacks, including those by bears and cougars, can be prevented by remembering a very simple rule: ‘There is safety in numbers.’
In the wake of another set of attacks on human beings by several large predators this summer, I’d like to share some information with you that could keep you safer. The most important concept to utilize to protect yourself and your loved ones while exploring the wilderness, especially those small in physical size, is the safety in numbers strategy.
I was disappointed recently when a biologist interviewed by CBC Radio in the wake of a cougar attack in Alberta referred to the big cats as being ‘very sneaky’ but made no mention of several potentially lifesaving facts.
It so happens a cougar can sometimes be repelled by humans it is stalking, even if the cat indicates it plans to attack. Cougars can be driven off by people who make themselves appear to be as large - and apparently troublesome to eat- as possible. Children and small adults should always remain close to the rest of the hiking party, as cougars are attracted to lone, deer-sized targets.
In my opinion a group of people walking in known cougar country should stay close together no matter what size they are. A single hour of internet research on ‘cougar attacks’ has more than convinced me that this policy is a sensible one.
When snowshoeing in the winter, particularly at night, my friends and I decided to ensure there were always four adults and at least one dog. The dog is to be on the leash, as parks authorities state that running dogs sometimes attract large predators to the humans they’re accompanying. Everyone should stay close together, even in the daytime.
These rules may sound a little over the top to you, but perhaps you haven’t removed entire forelegs of deer on several occasions from the mouths of leashed dogs. Various animal parts are strewn all through the forest. It wasn’t my friends, dogs or I who ended the lives of the deer and moose whose parts lay at the side of our favourite trail, nor did we tear the front legs off their torsos.
To help keep you safe while you enjoy the Okanagan Valley’s beautiful wild places, we’re publishing some professional advice at the end of this column. I’d add the suggestion that your party goes into the wilderness equipped with a few weapons – some metal hiking poles, a hunting knife, even just a solid stick. Stay together and talk or sing to let wild animals know you’re passing through.
My last recommendation is that you cherish the fact that where we live, the world of the wild is so lovely, so fascinating and so close. Later I will post a fabulous photo by Summerland's Ole Westby. Please read the list below, and continue to experience Happy Trails.