Starving cougar euthanized in Banff

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A young cougar on the brink of starving to death that had hunkered down under a porch of a house in the Middle Springs neighbourhood for several days has been euthanized for humane reasons.

Parks Canada resource conservation officers made the decision to put down the six-month-old female cougar Sunday (Jan. 3) on the advice of a wildlife veterinarian who said it was unlikely to survive for much longer.

Banff resident Barry Ferguson called resource conservation officers to his Middle Springs home after discovering a cougar under his porch about 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The same animal had been seen by other residents the week before.

“My dog had been acting really stupid. He’d been barking like hell at underneath the porch and then he went underneath the truck and was barking like hell,” said Ferguson.

“He did that for three days and all I assumed was it was somebody’s cat.”

Over the past two weeks, residents in the Middle Springs areas have been reporting observations of cougars.

With that in mind, Ferguson was driving home from dropping off the family Christmas tree on Sunday when he told his wife Hasmi and 10-year-old son Connor about a cougar living under a trailer and raising three kittens there in Jasper in the 1970s.

“When we got home, Connor says ‘I’m going to look under the porch to see if there’s a cougar’ and he comes back and says there’s a cougar,” he said.

“I thought bulls… and then Hasmi went and looked and said, ‘yes, there is a cougar’,” Ferguson added.

“I thought the two of them were pulling my leg, but I get down and look, and s…. there was a cat there.”

After getting a call from Ferguson, Parks Canada’s resource conservation officers arrived. They immobilized the young animal and took it to the wildlife lab at the warden office to assess its health and prognosis for survival.

Steve Michel, a human-wildlife conflict specialist, said it was the opinion of the wildlife veterinarian that it was unlikely the cougar would survive, including any attempts of stabilization.

He said the cougar weighed about 20 pounds, about half the weight it should have been, and hadn’t had any substantial food for several weeks.

“It was very, very evident that this animal was in extremely poor body condition, in a state of about 10 per cent dehydration, which in an animal is basically terminal, and it was extremely emaciated,” said Michel.

“This was an animal that was literally starving for several weeks … We made a decision to do a humane euthanization.”

Around noon on Dec. 23, a local resident spotted a cougar feeding on a deer carcass on the other side of the chain-link fence, inside the wildlife corridor at Middle Spring.

Resource conservation officers moved the carcass further into the forest of the wildlife corridor where it could not be seen, allowing the cougar to continue feeding outside of public view.

Michel said remote cameras installed there showed a female cougar and two offspring feeding on the carcass, as well as the smaller cougar that is now believed to be the same one that was euthanized.

“The third one came in later on and joined them and there appeared to be some interactions between the group that weren’t entirely normal for a cohesive family group,” said Michel.

“The smallest cougar was in poor condition and it remained at that site trying to feed on what was left of carcass for the next two or three days. There wasn’t anything left, only hide and bones, but it stayed and attempted to get some food somehow.”

The small cougar had also been spotted by a resident crouched by the side of his Sundance Court home mid-morning on Dec. 29, but fled into the forest of the nearby wildlife corridor.

At that point, Parks Canada put up a series of warning signs in the neighbourhood.

“We didn’t institute a formal warning. There had been no negative interactions, but it was concerning enough that it was along the edge of a residence,” said Michel.

What’s believed to be the same animal also had close encounter with a resident walking their dog along the wildlife corridor fence on Dec. 31.

“They startled the cougar at close range. It was quite close, but it didn’t make any aggressive moves towards the dog,” said Michel.

“The cougar immediately ran up a nearby tree. We went and investigated and the cougar was still up the tree so we tried to give it some space and time to come down,” he added.

The cougar didn’t come down, so after a couple of hours, wildlife experts hazed it out of the tree with chalk balls and it fled back into the wildlife corridor.

“This was also our first chance to get a really good look at the cougar and we could see it had relatively poor body condition and was very skinny,” said Michel.

The night before, there had also been reports of a cougar travelling through backyards along Jasper Way.

“We had three verified 100 per cent reports of a cougar being in residential areas, so we put a formal warning in effect for all of Middle Springs and Valleyview,” said Michel.

The adult female cougar and what appeared to be two healthy cubs have not been observed since they finished feeding on the deer carcass in the wildlife corridor in late December.

Earlier, however, their tracks were picked up at the Banff golf course as part of Parks Canada’s winter snow tracking monitoring.

“Those three animals looked very healthy,” said Michel.

Michel said it is unknown for sure where the six-month-old cougar that was euthanized originated from, but suspects it is not part of the other family group in the area.

“Our best guess is it’s from a different mother and that mother, for whatever reason, is no longer associated with that offspring,” he said.

“Whether she died somehow, perhaps she had interaction with wolves, or became separated or abandoned her offspring, we’ll never know.”

The cougar warning is still in effect in the areas of Middle Springs and Valley View.

To avoid an encounter with a cougar, or other dangerous wildlife, Parks Canada advises people to:

• Travel in groups and keep everyone together. Keep a careful eye on children.

• Be especially cautious when travelling during dawn and dusk, when wildlife is most active.

• Make noise to alert a cougar or other potentially dangerous wildlife of your presence.

• Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location and know how to use it.

• Keep your dog on leash at all times.

• Leave the area if you see or smell a dead animal.

• Never approach, entice or feed wildlife.

Please report all carnivore sightings immediately to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.

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