A young female cougar was destroyed Tuesday (July 19) morning after she attacked a dog the night before – the latest encounter in a string of incidents related to the juvenile cat.
“We felt if we didn’t do something, it could lead to something worse,” said District Conservation Officer Glenn Naylor. “We felt (Tuesday) morning, we will euthanize it. There was too much risk for that cat to be on the landscape.”
Sustainable Resource Development and Alberta Parks biologists and officers unanimously made the decision after the cougar attacked an off-leash dog at the west end of the Highline Trail, near the off-leash dog park. It was the second dog the cougar has reportedly attacked, on top of several reports of the cougar following people in the Bow Valley.
She had not shown aggressive behaviour toward humans, however wildlife officials did not want to risk a potential attack.
“Judging by her history, we felt she would attack another dog,” Naylor said. He also noted the cougar could have eventually attempted to attack a child or discovered Canmore’s feral rabbit population and moved into town.
“Now knowing her state, she could have stumbled onto the town’s bunny population,” he said.
The one-and-a-half-year-old cougar originally weighed 60 lbs when she was captured and collared a month ago in Banff by Parks Canada with her brother following an attack on a dog near Tunnel Mountain.
The duo were tracked together throughout the Bow Valley, but split up about two weeks ago and have been linked to several sightings and encounters, wildlife officials said.
She weighed 46 lbs when she was killed.
Measuring the size of a German Shepherd, the cat, known as cougar #96 was found lying near a guard rail by the side of the road near the Nordic centre the morning of her death. She did not move when wildlife officials approached her. Such behaviour is highly abnormal for cougars, which tend to avoid people.
“It was skin and bones,” said SRD biologist Jon Jorgenson. “She had lost 25 per cent of her body weight. A young cougar should be growing at that age.”
“We may have done this cougar a favour,” Naylor said.
Relocating the cougar was not an option, as the cat was habituated and would have likely gotten into more trouble, Naylor said.
“Relocating the cat would not change its behaviour. To move it would sentence it to death,” Naylor said.
“That would have taken a habituated cat in bad condition and moved her somewhere else. She likely would have ended up starving to death,” Jorgenson said.
Naylor explained SRD has limited resources and could not have handled such a high-risk animal on the landscape.
“She could have been manpower intensive,” Naylor said.
SRD contacted the Calgary Zoo to see if they could take the cougar. The zoo said they could not.
“The only options for this cougar were the zoo or removal,” Naylor said.
Jorgenson said the cougar and her brother displayed habituation tendencies when they were with their mother, however #96’s fate was sealed with the final attack.
On Monday (July 18) night, as the Canmore dog park was busy with patrons 100 metres away, the female cougar attacked an off leash dog at the base of the Highline Trail.
When the dog’s owners arrived, the cougar released the dog and laid down in the grass next to the trail.
The three cyclists were afraid to pass the cougar and were stuck on the trail until RCMP and conservation officers arrived on scene. Three RCMP officers, one brandishing a shotgun, arrived and hiked to the cyclists. Together, they yelled and threw rocks at the cougar to get her to move. However once they threw rocks, the cougar actually got closer to the group.
RCMP Const. Jared Scott said the officers offered protection, noting it was a high-risk situation.
“We were ten feet away from the juvenile cougar,” Const. Scott said. “But it didn’t display any threatening behaviour.”
At 9 p.m., Public Safety, Fish and Wildlife and conservation officers arrived on scene with more firepower and escorted the cyclists and their dog out of the woods. With a thunderstorm flashing fork lightening across the sky and daylight wasting, they then closed the Highline Trail for the evening and agreed to meet Tuesday morning to decide the cougar’s fate.
Despite its behaviour, the cat could have had a better fate.
The incident likely would have been avoided if the dog was on leash or left at home, Naylor said.
“Chances are if there was no dog, the cyclists would have rode right past the cougar and would have never known she was there,” Naylor said.
He stressed again that dog owners must keep their animals on leash or at home. Their presence greatly escalates the chances of a cougar encounter.
At press time, conservation officers were still debating ticketing the cyclists, who are from British Columbia, for having an off-leash dog.
The decision to destroy the cougar was not taken lightly.
“We had discussions and were concerned for a while about this cougar. The incident (Monday) night and the attack on the dog escalated our concern,” Jorgenson said.
Since the cougar had lost so much weight, he believes she was not a successful hunter.
“She was looking for anything she could find,” Jorgenson said.
Cougars must feast on deer and sheep in order to thrive, but when desperate will hunt smaller prey such as dogs, mice or rabbits.
Wildlife officials are now concerned about the fate of the young male cougar, which has been linked to several other encounters throughout the Bow Valley. However thus far, he has not attacked a dog.
“We’re not sure what shape he’s in,” Naylor said. “He’s shown nothing with pets, but has been close to people.”
If he does begin attacking pets or displaying predatory behaviour, he could meet the same fate as his sister. Young cougars are the biggest source of attacks.
“We have to figure out how to keep this cat on the landscape,” Naylor said.
Cougar sightings should be reported to wildlife officials by calling 403-591-7755.