THE MUSKOKAN — Not every cat in Muskoka is a cuddly ball of fur you’d want sitting on your lap.
HERE TO STAY.
Regardless of how they got here, cougars are a new reality in the Ontario wilds. Stuart Kenn, president of the Ontario Puma Foundation says that if you are lucky enough to see one, they are very likely to leave you alone, unless they feel threatened.
A full-grown cougar can weigh more than 200 pounds and is able to bring
down prey as big as a large moose. They are incredibly successful ambush
predators and tend to use a suffocating bite to the neck to kill their
prey. There is also a very good chance they can be found, right here, in
According to a recent report in the Canadian Field-Naturalist titled
Evidence Confirms the Presence of Cougars (Puma concolor) in Ontario,
Canada, the big cats are roaming around Ontario’s wilds.
Probably the most important thing to know about cougars is, despite
their intimidating predatory characteristics, there is no evidence to
suggest they are any threat to people.
“There has never been a confirmed attack of a cougar on a human in
Ontario,” said Rick Rosatte, senior research scientist and cougar
specialist with the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario. “However,
if a person encounters a cougar they should slowly back away from the
animal, stand tall and try to look as large as possible. If necessary,
throw objects and yell at the animal.”
Also known as pumas and mountain lions, the cats can be identified by
their normally tan colouring and white underbody. There have been
unconfirmed reports of cougar sightings in the province for years, but
the elusive nature of the cat has made these sightings difficult to
It was believed since the early 1900s, due to intensive hunting, the
Ontario cougar was extinct. The increase in sightings over the last few
years seems to indicate a significant increase in the population.
Despite having more cougars around, Rosatte said there is no reason to
believe your cat, dog or livestock is in particular danger.
“Cougars have been here all along and no dramatic impacts due to their
presence are anticipated as cougars exist at extremely low densities,”
The cat tends to live in a home range consisting of hundreds of square
kilometres. Cougars are almost always solitary, except when mating or
when they are kittens.
Accurate numbers of how many cougars are present in the province are
hard to determine, due to their elusive nature, but the Ontario Puma
Foundation estimates there are around 550 in the province.
For the MNR report, 497 pieces of evidence were analyzed in order to
confirm the animal’s presence. Evidence included firsthand sightings,
scat and hair samples, and tracks. One piece of evidence was a
photograph of a cougar in the Orillia area from March 2007.
Even though people living in rural communities have been reporting
cougar sightings for years, the experts say the majority of amateur
cougar sightings are inaccurate.
Stuart Kenn, president and provincial research co-ordinator of the
Ontario Puma Foundation, said the problem with trusting human sightings
is that people often make errors in identification.
“If you tell me you saw a puma, you can give me a good description, but I
can’t prove you saw a puma,” said Kenn. “The most reliable sightings
are the ones we get sent to us with a full description of the animal —
colour, length of tail, black muzzle, white under parts, the length,
whatever. So if they can describe a lot to me that would make me more
Other large mammals, like lynx or fishers, are often misidentified as
being cougars. Cougar sighting reports have a tendency to increase
following news that a cat is present in the area.
Despite their recent growth, the cougar is still considered an
endangered species in Ontario. The extinction in the province of the
once prolific species came about due primarily to one reason.
“Human persecution,” said Kenn. “When European settlers came to North
America they were afraid of everything, so they basically shot
everything they saw. They hunted wolves, bears, everything.”
Today, Ontario is a lot more cougar friendly then it was in the late
19th century. Deer populations are healthy and new hunting and logging
practices mean it’s a lot easier to be an Ontario cougar.
One explanation for the return of a sustainable cougar population in
Ontario is once captive animals have escaped and started to breed. The
population report estimates that there are roughly 100 cougars in
captivity across the province.
Other plausible explanations include the idea that free-ranging cougars
from neighbouring areas have wandered into the province. Evidence over
the last few years has shown a trend in cougar populations to move
Regardless of how they got here, cougars are a new reality in the
Ontario wilds. Kenn said that if you are so lucky as to see one, they
are very likely to leave you alone, unless they feel threatened.
“They’re shy and elusive,” Kenn said. “They’re like any wild animal, if
they get cornered they’ll attack you. Typically, if they hear you coming
through the bush, they’ll be heading in the other direction.”