A family of cougars has put an urban Nanaimo neighbourhood on high alert, and conservation officers are urging residents to do their part to keep the big cats alive.

Darlene Pillott says she’s heard the cougars growling late at night from her property, which backs up onto Woodstream Park, and that the sound is chilling.

“It’s like living in a horror movie,” she says. “They do come up into my backyard, they’ve been in the neighbours’ backyard, and we believe they’re sort of under the bank.”

BC Conservation Officer Troy Sterling says the growling is coming from one of four or possibly five cougars that moved into the park about six weeks ago in the Departure Bay area.

“At this time, the cougars haven’t demonstrated any behaviour that warrants their removal,” he said. “They’re just in the area, they’re hunting their food source, deer and raccoons, and there’s a large quantity of it in this area.”

Sterling said the Conservation Officer Service is actively monitoring the animals, which are believed to have come down from Linley Valley.

Kristian Grzyvowski, an area resident, started recording video of the loud cats the last time he heard them.

“I was outside on the deck,” he said. “I heard them on Halloween night. Sort of a growl and a roar, and then after that, sort of a prey call from a deer.”

Grzyvowski, who works for the SPCA, said there are so many deer in the neighbourhood it’s no wonder the cougars have moved in – and he’s noticed there have been fewer in recent weeks.

“They’re getting them, and they’re also probably scaring them off to higher ground,” he said.

As long as the cougars stick to deer, Sterling said they won’t be destroyed.

“They haven’t presented any aggressive threatening or predatory behaviour toward humans or pets, livestock or any property damage, so at this time we’re just watching them,” he said.

BC Conservation Officer Service has a no-relocation policy when it comes to cougars after the province revised its procedures earlier this year.

“We do not remove cougars. If we relocate a cougar, we’re putting it into an area where it’s not familiar, so it doesn’t understand where food and water are,” said Sterling. “They’re also going to be competing for territory with other cougars, so we do not remove them.”

That means if anything changes in the cougars’ behaviour, they could be killed – which is why the public is being asked to report all sightings to the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277, keep pets on a leash and avoid the area for the time being.

With a report from CTV Vancouver Island's Jessica Lepp