Image confirms cougar in Lac du Bonnet area
By: Carol Sanders
Updated: November 20, 2008 at 09:25 AM CST
Proof of a cougar prowling through a Lac du Bonnet subdivision is exciting news for conservation officials and a bit of a worry for area residents.
“You have to be very careful out here,” said Vera Cardinal, councillor for the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.
“A lot of people are under the impression there are no cougars out here,” said Cardinal, who received the photos from the RM and forwarded them to people in the area with the warning: “When outdoors, especially with children and pets, please be cautious.”
The photos taken with a surveillance camera Nov. 11 at a home in the Cape Coppermine subdivision were submitted to Manitoba Conservation, said zoologist Bill Watkins.
He is excited because it’s the first time the department has had proof of a cougar in the Lac du Bonnet area.
“We had a CO (conservation officer) visit the site. Everything matches and they found tracks.”
The fact that the wild animal is a cougar is enough to send a chill down the spine of local pet owners and people with small children.
“I don’t think that’s a small kitty-cat,” Cardinal said. “I’m not interested in running into it.”
She’s thankful she’s isn’t one of the area residents who have reported spotting a big, hungry cat on the hunt.
“A cougar was seen taking down a deer on the Lee River shoreline,” Cardinal said. “We have two small dogs.”
A cougar sighting that can be confirmed is extremely rare, said Watkins, who works in the biodiversity conservation section of Manitoba Conservation.
The province often hears about cougar sightings a week or two after the fact, he said. By the time they can check them out, the evidence — hair, scat or tracks — is long gone.
And then there are the cougar sightings that turn out to be false.
“First and foremost, we get a lot of hoax photos,” Watkins said.
Conservation officers will go to the area of a reported sighting and make sure the landscape in the photo matches reality, then check to see if the image has been digitally
manipulated. They’ll look for animal tracks, hair and feces and send specimens for analysis. While he hasn’t received the final report on the Cape Coppermine cougar, Watkins said it appears to be bona fide.
“Rarely do people claim credit for pictures (that are a hoax),” he said. “Generally, someone who comes forward and says ‘I took this picture’ knows they’re going to face public criticism if it’s discovered to be a fake.”
In the case of the cougar captured on a surveillance camera Nov. 11 sauntering through a subdivision, it was the homeowner who contacted conservation officials, Watkins said.
There are usually no more than one or two confirmed cougar sightings in Manitoba a year, Watkins said. And his department has never seen evidence of kittens or anything that would suggest cougars have bred here or taken up residence.
Their primary source of food is deer, but they’ve been known to eat anything they can catch.
A cougar’s habitat can cover hundreds of square kilometres. Watkins said the big cats seen in Manitoba may just be passing through.
“They are very elusive creatures,” Cardinal said.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org