JOHN DEMONT: Haunted by the Phantom Lion

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Our country neighbor had an interesting story to tell when I met her on the road the other day. She was walking with her two dogs on an old path in the desert when the dogs got worried.

It was unusual behavior, especially for the younger of the duo, who sprints off a football pitch in a blind welcome upon spotting a dog or human who looks familiar.

The explanation came a moment later: something feline, a meter and a half long with a long tail and spotted fur, passed in their path, close enough to see its muscles flex and its whiskers twitch.

“I grew up in the wilderness of British Columbia,” she says. “It was a cougar.”

It was startling news, but the revelation that this big cat was heading our way, the equivalent of about two blocks from where the sighting occurred, where I was the biggest source of protein for a country mile.

Now something else made sense. The other night my wife heard a strange noise coming from the inky darkness outside.

Coyotes on the prowl was the word at the local cafe the next day. A pack had been heard in the nearby woods howling with joy after possibly shooting down a deer.

Except, based on some YouTube recordings, what she heard sounded much less like the canine call of a coyote, and more like a horror movie scream of a cougar.

Now here’s the thing: According to a provincial government website, cougars, along with wolves and caribou, were extirpated in this province around 1900.

Since then, “there has never been definitive evidence of a cougar in Nova Scotia,” Emma Vost, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources biologist in the western region, told me the other day. of the province.

Observations regularly reported

Yet rumors of their existence persist, as befits a lonely, secretive cat that some call the Phantom Lion. Sightings are reported regularly to MNR, based on tracks – often a dog – or a few droppings on a trail.

People send in grainy images and indistinct video from trail cameras, which usually turn out to be a bobcat on the mainland or a lynx in Cape Breton, photographed at a funny angle or with nothing in the frame to give a animal scale idea.

Sometimes it’s just the word of something glimpsed out of the corner of a hiker’s or driver’s eye at night.

“There’s just this predilection,” Vost said. “People seem to want cougars to exist in Nova Scotia.”


So far this year, 13 cougar sightings have been reported to MNR. Five of them were in Lunenburg County, which, it must be said, is an unexpected development for a part-time country dweller, who is still learning to live in uneasy harmony with the four-legged creatures, winged, clawed and furred of God.


To illustrate, she told me about a photographic image that someone sent to her office. It was indeed a cougar, which excited the people of the DNR
for a minute.

Then someone realized that the photo had been doctored – the big cat had been filmed somewhere in the West, where cougars roam – by someone whose wishful thinking had got the better of them.

So far this year, 13 cougar sightings have been reported to MNR. Five of them were in Lunenburg County, which, it must be said, is an unexpected development for a part-time country dweller, who is still learning to live in uneasy harmony with the four-legged creatures, winged, clawed and furred of God.

Life beyond the boundaries of the Halifax Regional Municipality requires me to become a new man, able to grow my own food, speak with some knowledge of wells and septic tanks, know things like the date of the last full moon in June.

However, all transformations have their limitations. Although my people, like yours, began their story in the countryside, successive generations of city dwellers have altered our DNA to the point that a visit to the Superstore is considered hunting and gathering.

I saw exactly one really dangerous animal in the wild: a small bear that walked past me before I knew what it was.

Yet outside the city limits, we hear coyotes howling at the moon or see bear droppings near the back door and know they’re still around.

When I told a friend about the cougar conversation, he told me the story of a game reserve established on land recently returned by white farmers to the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Some deer have been reintroduced into the land. Soon the leopards, which had not been seen in these areas for 200 years, reappeared and began to multiply now that the humans had disappeared. When a deer was shot, vultures, also unseen for ages, began to appear.

Now the vultures, which can see from a great height, may have been there all along, flying just beyond the reach of the human eye. His argument, however, was that the leopards might have been there all those years, unbeknownst to the white farmers in the area.

Years ago, while fishing in Cape Breton, I walked into a clearing and almost upon a half-eaten moose carcass. The animal’s leg was lying a little further down the river.

An old man who was fishing there with his grandson said it must have been the work of a pack of coyotes, with teeth sharp enough to smash the femur of a beast the size of a van .

The whole time at the fishing hole and back to the car, I kept looking over my shoulder for the gleam of lupine eyes.

I noticed similarities in my dog, a sleepy veteran in the city, but out in the countryside alert as a puppy, eyes perpetually wide-eyed for a fox or deer like the one that passed by just the other day.

With wildlife now a more familiar sight, I’m like that too, not because in my chest beats the heart of a hunter, but because my pulse beats a little faster to think of something untamed and dangerous out there in nature. this civilized age.

Sometimes when I get carried away, I wonder if it’s not the awakening of an ancient instinct that dates back to when my predecessors roamed the earth with the other carnivores.

This, of course, is complete hooey. I know that never in my life do I want to turn a corner and find just a cougar and me standing face to face.

Yet, from the safety of my porch, it thrills me to think that one could be out there right now, gliding through the dark woods as silent as a ghost.

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