Fire / Feu

                     

 

 

français

 

 

 

 

Feedback
from readers,
on this article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

===========

The last confirmed report of a cougar in
New Brunswick was in 1932.

===========

 

Eastern Cougar

Cade Libby
Provincial Furbearer Biologist
DNRE
Novembre 2000

 

or decades, the presence of eastern cougar (Felis concolor couguar) in New Brunswick has been debated among biologists and the public. The eastern cougar was placed on the provincial endangered species list, but its status is unknown. Due to the lack of evidence in the past, biologists are now wondering if there was ever a subspecies of eastern cougar or maybe that there was just an eastern population of cougar (same species as found in the west). Taxonomically biologists now refer to eastern cougar as cougar (Felis concolor).


(photo: cougar site)


Since the mid 1970’s to the present day there have been several hundred reported sightings. In addition, there are a considerable amount of sightings that have not been reported.

The last confirmed report of a cougar in New Brunswick was in 1932. A hunter in Kent County shot a cougar while it was resting in a tree. Furthermore, the last confirmed report of a cougar in Eastern Canada was in 1938. A large tawny colored cat (suspected to be a cougar) was trapped in Quebec near the Maine border. Since then there have been numerous reported sightings, but the lack of substantial evidence questions the existence of this animal in our forests.

The cougar can be described as being 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 m) in length (from nose to tip of tail), 100-150 pounds (45.5-68.2 kg) and a shoulder height of 26-30 inches (65-75 cm). The track is large (4 inches (10 cm) in width) and resembles a large bobcat or lynx track. Cougars are typically most active at night and are tawny brown to gray in color.

Each year in New Brunswick there are approximately 40 reported sightings of cougar. The most common sightings are from cars or while people are walking. The observer typically sees a large cat-size animal jump out of the woods and run across the road. The length of time the animal is in the field of view is normally for a few seconds.

Every district office of the Department of Natural Resources and Energy (DNRE) has "eastern cougar report forms". When people believe they have seen a cougar they are asked to fill out a form. One of the questions on this report form is: " what color was the animal that you saw?" If the individual states the animal they saw was dark brown or black, the "red flags" go up.

There has never been a reported black cougar in North America. Here in New Brunswick we have a number of animals that can be confused as being a "black" cat. There are fisher (Martes pennanti), dark colored coyotes (Canis latrans), black bears (Ursus americanus) and not to mention domestic dogs and cats. All of these when glanced at could resemble a large dark-colored cat. However, if the report is convincing a DNRE staff member will visit the site and take pictures, measure tracks/stride, collect scat and hair samples and perhaps take plaster casts of tracks.

Although the existence of cougar looks uncertain, there have been a few convincing stories and some credible evidence. In 1992 provincial wildlife biologists responded to a call in the Juniper area. What they found was cat tracks (approximately 4 inches in width) and strides of 4 feet in length. These clues most certainly suggest a very large cat. Scat was also collected along the trail and sent for testing. Analysis confirmed that hair in the scat sample was cougar hair based on the hair's banding pattern and scale morphology.   
A letter from 1993 confirmed the hair, found in the scat from Juniper, as being cougar. The testing was done by the Canadian Museum of Nature (tests were conducted by C. (Stan) G. van Zyll de Jong).  The hairs were suspected of being ingested during grooming after feeding.

In October (2000) an American bear hunter reported seeing a cougar while hunting over bait. The guide had seen large cat tracks in the grease and fat around the bait from the night before. At 5:30 p.m. in the afternoon the hunter saw a cougar approach the bait site. The cat paused for a few minutes to look things over and was approximately 40 metres away. After looking things over the cat walked past the bait and into the near by softwood stand. The hunter saw the cat for a total of 10 minutes. After receiving a phone call from the guide a DNRE biologist responded to the call and made a visit to the site. By that time (as usual) the tracks melted in the fat and the cougar was nowhere to be found. The guide made a good point and said that there was an increase in human activity a couple of days after the sighting because of the start of deer season, perhaps the animal was scared away. The hunter no doubt saw something, but without a picture, a plaster cast of the animal’s track or some other credible evidence, it is difficult to convince others.


(photo: Mark Pulsifer)

If a cougar is found in New Brunswick there will be several questions that have to be addressed. DNA testing will have to be completed to determine if the animal is an actual eastern cougar or an escaped western cougar. The evidence will also allow us to determine if the province’s cougars are part of an eastern population of cougar. Until we get the evidence that is necessary to confirm cougar in New Brunswick, the biologists and the public will continue to debate the status of cougar in our province.