MUSKOKA - Cougar attacks and sightings in Muskoka have raised questions about whether cougars have been released into the area and what to do if you see one.
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.
While there are stories of the Ministry of Natural Resources releasing cougars in Ontario, the MNR denies it.
Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer for the MNR, said in an email interview they aren’t aware of anyone releasing cougars in Ontario.
“We know cougars exist in Ontario, but we have not determined if they are escaped from zoos or were exotic pets, whether they migrated from other areas or are native,” she said.
The MNR has guidelines to deal with cougar encounters, but said encountering one is not as common as people think.
“There has never been an attack by a cougar on a person in Ontario and 95 per cent of all alleged cougar sightings are misidentifications,” Kowalski said.
Susan Milburn, one of the owners of Woodridge Riding Centre in Utterson, is not convinced and feels people should be educated about cougars.
“They say they (cougars) won’t bother people. How is it that joggers have been killed out west?” she said.
During a horse show this summer she said two people heard what they believed was a cougar.
Milburn said one of the women staying in a trailer on the property was quite certain she heard a cougar. At the same time a neighbour across the road heard a very heavy animal in the undergrowth, then a deep, throaty scream coming from the edge of the riding centre’s property. After looking up animal noises on the Internet, he identified it as a cougar.
That was on July 7, the same day a cougar was shot in Utterson after mauling a dog.
The event hasn’t changed how things run at the stables, Milburn said.
She is accustomed to seeing coyotes in the field watching them as they do chores in the barn.
She said the coyotes are more obvious than cougars and have been a problem.
“Some of these things look like something out of Harry Potter,” she said.
Milburn brings the ponies into the barn at night to keep them safe from any wildlife, and said she’s always aware of the dangers of wildlife on her nightly walks to the barn to check on the animals.
“We live in Muskoka and we do have wildlife and I’ve never been unduly concerned, but it’s not a great thought,” she said.
The MNR doesn’t know if there are any native cougars in Ontario or whether those in the wild are escaped domestic cougars. It reports that cougars that have been released or raised in captivity may approach humans, but should be avoided.
To get away, pick up any small children, face the cougar and slowly back away, always leaving the cougar an escape route. Never run as its instinct is to chase.
The MNR did not report that either native or domestic cougars are more dangerous; their concern is the purity of the genetics.
Cougars that are kept in captivity as pets or in zoos are from South America, whereas wild cougars in Ontario have a North American genetic makeup.
“If domestic and wild cougars were to be in the same area and were different genotypes and interbred this could threaten the purity of the gene pool, which is a concern because cougars are a threatened species in Ontario,” Kowalski said.
If you happen to see a cougar, see related sidebar for instructions on what to do.