Rare cougar sightings stir concern in Mono
Rare cougar sightings spark concern in the town of Mono.
Two extremely rare cougar sightings in the town of Mono, Ont., have sparked both concern and excitement.
A Mono resident called police Sunday morning after spotting a cougar walking down Leader Dr. in the town, just north of Orangeville, around 9 a.m.
“The road runs right behind a public school,” said OPP Const. Paul Nancekivell. “It’s of concern to the town of Mono.”
The principal at Mono Amaranth Public School said recess continues because the OPP said students are safe outdoors. The school didn’t inform students of the cougar sightings, so as not to scare them, but teachers have discussed emergency procedures.
“We’d ring the bell, which we’re hoping would scare the animal away,” said principal Peter Leblanc.
A cougar was also spotted Saturday on a rural side road about 23 kilometres from the school.
Ontario cougars — a species also called mountain lions and pumas — are rarely seen. The last cougar officially recorded by the province was shot and killed in 1884, but 189 possible sightings were reported between 1935 and 1983. However, there is firm evidence the cats live in Ontario.
“While we know there are cougars in the province, we also know they are extremely rare,” cougar researcher Rick Rosatte says in a statement on the Ministry of Natural Resources website.
A group of 89 biologists and wildlife technicians banded together with the Ministry of Natural Resources in 2006 to seek proof of Ontario cougars. Since then, the team has documented more than 30 cases of cougar tracks and droppings, but a single cat has yet to be officially spotted.
Stuart Kenn has been tracking cougars — or pumas, as he insists on the scientific name — since 1974, but has yet to see one in the flesh.
“They’re shy and elusive animals; normally they’re three hills over before you see or hear it,” said Kenn, president of the Ontario Puma Foundation.
Kenn, a cartographer, has set up “trail cams” in puma populated areas, but has yet to catch a cat on film. He also collects witness accounts from across the province, but says many don’t pan out.
“Ninety-five per cent of sightings aren’t pumas to begin with. They could be coyotes, dogs, cats, just about anything else.”
Michigan has been considered unofficial cougar country in North America; the state’s Ministry of Natural Resources has confirmed 15 sightings since 2008. The most recent verified cougar sighting in Michigan was last May, after a man snapped a photo of a cougar crossing a road and fleeing into the woods.
One of the few videos of a wild cougar was shot in Michigan in 2011. The black-and-white video shows the large cat stroll past a nighttime camera.
The Ontario ministry said there is a possibility some cougars roaming free here are former pets.
“It’s likely that escaped or intentionally released cougars — from zoos and private homes — are responsible for at least some of the sightings,” Rosatte said. “Or they could be a genetic mix from different sources — remnants of a small native population or migrants from the west.”
The Mono sighting has yet to be verified as a cougar. The Ministry of Natural Resources says many alleged cougar sightings turn out to be bobcats, lynx and even house cats.
Cougars, listed as an endangered species, can grow to almost 3 metres long and weigh up to 100 kilograms. The OPP says cougars can be deadly and warns Mono residents to supervise pets outside and avoid areas populated by deer, as they could be a cougar’s lunch.
There is no record of a cougar attack on a human in Ontario. But if approached by a cougar, Rosatte has some advice.
“One should slowly back away from the animal, stand tall and look as large as possible, and fight back with any object if attacked.”
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