THE MUSKOKAN — Despite proven locals, cougars are not protected under Ontario legislation designed to preserve indigenous species.
LOCALS OR EXOTIC?.
Laws that restrict the ownership of exotic pets have come under scrutiny in Muskoka after a provincial police officer shot and killed a cougar in Utterson on July 7. The cougar was attacking a resident’s German shepherd and after investigating, the cat was found to be declawed — meaning it was likely an escaped or released pet.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act provides legal protections to a variety of native species including lynx, wolves and fishers. Among other restrictions, the act prohibits the confinement of these native species without a special licence or exception.
Cougars are not listed under the act, so prohibitions against their confinement fall to individual municipalities.
Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer with the Ministry of Natural Resources said that cougars receive different legal protections than animals like moose or bear.
“Cougars are not protected under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, but cougars are listed as an endangered species in Ontario and are protected under the Endangered Species Act.”
The Ontario Puma Foundation estimates that there are roughly 550 cougars in the province. That number firmly establishes them as a species at risk.
The Endangered Species Act forbids the capture of any species on the list unless that animal was captured outside of Ontario.
“Municipalities may regulate the keeping of cougars in captivity through municipal bylaws restricting possession of dangerous/exotic animals,” Kowalski said. “There is no exotic animal bylaw in place in the Township of Muskoka Lakes where this cougar incident occurred.”
Muskoka Lakes is the only municipality in the Muskoka region that does not have an exotic animal bylaw. That means in the Muskoka Lakes municipality, as long as the owner maintains prescribed standards of care, as spelled out in the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, having a pet cougar is legal.
While an exotic animal is generally considered one that is not indigenous to the region, both Huntsville and Bracebridge legislation specifically mentions cougars as being prohibited pets.
Scott Stakiw, chief bylaw officer in Bracebridge, said that despite being indigenous, cougars fall under regulations for exotics.
“They’re still considered exotic,” said Stakiw. “It absolutely would be illegal to have one as a pet. It’s considered an exotic animal, and, under our exotic animal bylaw, it would be a prohibited animal.”