Despite hundreds of cougar sightings reported in Nova Scotia over the years, physical evidence remains elusive

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Each year, a few dozen people call the provincial Department of Natural Resources to report that they have seen a cougar. And every year, the department searches, unsuccessfully, for physical evidence that one of the big cats was in the area in question.

Many who contact the service are convinced they have seen one of the big cats, but with sometimes grainy photos if any, the staff need something physical to prove what was seen, such as feces. , hair, good footprints or clear photos. with metadata to show where it was taken.

“For years, the department has recorded reports of cougars, which go back decades,” said wildlife technician Butch Galvez.

“I myself conducted surveys where the person was 100% convinced it was a cougar, and it turned out to be a house cat. I’ve had some that turned out to be raccoons or the neighbor’s dog. But there are some who are very believable, but there is no image, no traces, no proof.

Galvez said he takes several photos a year, some in the past few weeks, and all of them were lynx.

“Typically we see an increase in cat sightings at this time of year, which is probably a function, in the case of bobcats, of more landscapes,” he said. “The kittens hunt, the abundance of prey changes, the leaves fall from the trees so there is more visibility.

The bobcat and lynx are the only confirmed wild feline predators in the province.

“Our bobcat subspecies is the largest in North America,” said Galvez. “The male can reach 40 pounds, which is huge on a cat frame. It would be like seeing a golden retriever, in terms of outline.”

She said the bobcat’s tails can measure over six inches and be lifted and flutter in the air, “so she is visible from 20 or 30 meters away, which is (the distance) of most sightings (cougars ) reported “.

He said some of the photos reaching the department are too blurry, and all of the photos he has looked at and biologists have examined over the years have turned out to be bobcats or other animals.

Galvez said there were thousands of surveillance cameras in the woods used by hunters and others, but no one sent a photo that can be definitively identified as a cougar.

“Every once in a while you’ll see someone post a photo on Facebook and say, ‘Oh, this is Porters Lake in my backyard’, or something like that, and it’s a photo of a cougar, but with tracking we usually find it’s a photo from another part of North America.

He said hunters’ surveillance cameras picked up bears, coyotes and other animals on bait piles during deer hunting season. With deer as a cougar’s primary food source, “you’d think if a cougar was around it would end up showing up on a trail camera,” he said.

Galvez said it was unlikely that a single western cougar could have entered the province from western Canada, but there is no sign of a population. The eastern cougar has been declared extinct in the United States, and all occurrences have been found as western cougars or cougars that have escaped or been released from captivity.

Hinterland Who’s Who, now produced by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, says on its website that there is little physical evidence, such as road deaths or droppings, that cougars are present in eastern Canada since the 19th century.

A possible sighting in Digby County last year caused some noise, but the local MNR technician and the biologist who investigated were of the opinion that the three animals, one large and two smaller, were not not cougars.

“When I watch the video, and it’s difficult because you don’t know how far people are, it looks like they are house cats,” Galvez said.

He said the other factor was that the sighting was on Digby Neck. “There are quite a few houses there and it’s pretty tight, and there hasn’t been any other sightings or evidence.”

The lack of evidence doesn’t always go well with those reporting a sighting, Galvez said.

“A lot of times people translate this as the DNR is hiding something or they don’t believe us,” he said. “I’d like to see another species or find some evidence, but it’s just not there yet.”


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