By Jeff Morrison Ottawa SunWith an onslaught of eyewitness accounts since last summer's cougar shooting near Bracebridge, Ont., the city has become a hub for large cat activity.
When Shawn Heggert of South Mountain stared in disbelief at a large tawny-coloured cat (with radio-collar) trotting along the roadside near his home, little did we know that a rash of other sightings would be reported throughout Ontario. Since last summer, more than a dozen cougar encounters have been documented in the Outdoors blog alone, from folks who chose to come forward, some with fear of reprisal. These reported sightings range in description from your typical large brown cat with a long dangling tail, to an all-black cat, as well as a large cat sporting a visible radio collar. The majority of cougars reported fall into two distinct geographic regions: The Muskokas region around the town of Bracebridge (mostly black cougars) and a second area of high density much closer to home, in the Kemptville-area.
Western migration theory
Last July, police in the Muskokas shot what was believed to be the first wild cougar the province has seen since 1884. Preliminary test results from a post-mortem however, determined this cougar to be, in fact, an escaped animal and not free ranging as was suspected. Based on hard evidence, the search for a truly wild cougar continued undaunted. Since that time, an interesting new theory has emerged based partially on evidence from a mountain lion discovered in 2011 along a Connecticut highway. That animal was deemed to have genetic makeup consistent with the Black Hills of South Dakota, and believed to have travelled more than 1,500 miles in an unfathomable trek eastward.
Collared cougar connection
The Heggert cougar near South Mountain, you will recall, was also wearing a radio-collar and presents an exciting new theory. Since only western agencies carry-out radio telemetry research using tracking devices, is it plausible that cougars spotted in our region are actually cats originating from the west. The eastern-most breeding population of (radio-collared) cougars is a whopping 2,600 kilometres away in Cypress Hills, Sask.. Most Agencies still contend that wild cougars do not exist in Ontario and these recent sightings are all the result of escaped captive animals. This stance does not hold up to the smell test, in my opinion. Are there really that many captive (pet) cougars to justify the number of sightings, some as recent as this week? I have my doubts and personally, put more faith in a western cougar migration theory. Whatever the case, it would appear these large mysterious cats have taken-up residence in our province whether we choose to believe it or not. If you should see a cougar in your area, please drop me a line:
New policy on exporting big-game
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has just announced policy changes concerning the importation of big-game trophies into Canada from certain countries. Trophies that enter Canada from Africa, for example, must be in a fully taxidermied state, meaning already fully mounted. Any skins, skulls, horns that are not fully taxidermied must be sent in a specified container to a certified (CFIA approved) taxidermist and will be treated like a quarantined shipment. These new restrictions are not sitting well with Safari Club International's (SCI) Bob Valcov, who contacted Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to share concern over how these changes will affect travelling hunters.