A potential cougar sighting near Bankview on Thursday evening caused concern from some residents on social media, but a district wildlife officer says cougars are a low threat to humans and pets.
Diana Hanik posted on Facebook after a neighbour spotted the animal in the hills near their home around 1 Street SW in Drumheller on September 1. She told the Mail although she didn’t see the animal herself, the neighbour said the animal was between 60 to 70 lbs.
“There was definitely something big back there. The dogs were barking like crazy,” Hanik said.
Resident Stacy Allison saw what she thought at first was a house cat but later thought it looked too big.
“It looked like a long sleek body of a cat. Thinking back, I was watching it go down the hill and it was bigger than your average house cat. But it was far enough away that I didn’t consider perspective,” she said.
District fish and wildlife officer Jeff Zimmer said although the sighting is possibly founded, 97 per cent of cougar sightings are false and confirmed sightings are usually made by identifying tracks after the animal is long gone.
“Some people think they are like bears and they come into yards to eat dog food, but that’s not the case. When there’s human activity there is less chance of a cougar to be found,” he said. “It’s possible a cougar could have wandered into the area but by the sounds of it it ran away once people came outside.”
Zimmer said cougars follow rivers, creeks, and coulees where there is an abundance of deer, porcupines, rabbits and other small mammals.
He said Drumheller has had regular sightings since the early 2000’s, but he has only found two cases where it was a sighting seemed probable.
“With my experience with sightings is that unless I can confirm it with a track or picture or a cached kill, I can’t confirm it.”
Traditionally, he said, people see things that they think are cougars but they turn out to be cats or dogs. Cougars can be identified by a small head, long body, and a long tail with a black tip. If they don’t have those features, more often than not it's an average house cat.
“Cougars are very distinctive. In some cases, they think they saw a cougar and the more they think about it the more they want to believe it’s a cougar.”
“As far as public safety goes, cougars are not a concern. Cougar attacks in Alberta are rare and we’ve only had one fatality ever. In areas with lots of human activity, you won’t find a cougar unless it’s lost or very young,” Zimmer said.