October 05, 2006 — By Reuters
TORONTO — Cougars, believed to have vanished from Eastern Canada, could just be hiding.
The big wild cats, also known as pumas or mountain lions, have not been spotted in the eastern part of the country for years. But the Canadian national parks service said Wednesday that a hair sample found at Forillon Park, about 1,200 km north east of Quebec City, came from a cougar belonging to a North American population.
"We're talking about one animal. It doesn't mean that's the only one out there, but we are sure there is at least one," said Jean-Guy Chavarie, manager of Ecosystem Conservation Gaspesie Field Unit, Parks Canada.
Cougar hair collection stations have been placed in national parks throughout Eastern Canada, using scented bait to attract the cats to a pole wrapped in rough carpet. The animals rub themselves against the pole, leaving hairs on the carpet.
A laboratory at Universite de Montreal was able to determine the origin of the hairs using DNA tests.
The elusive animal, which can be very difficult to observe, is still quite common in Western Canada.
"At some point we thought the species had disappeared because we didn't have any scientific confirmation of its presence," Chavarie said.
The cougar population in Eastern Canada started to decline steadily at the end of the 1800s, decimated by hunting, trapping and habitat loss.