Sunday, July 05, 2009

Alberta cougar destroyed for preying on deer in townsite

Cougar destroyed in Waterton townsite

Geoff Morgan
Friday July 03, 2009

Crews at Waterton Lakes National Park were faced with the grim task of destroying a cougar on Saturday evening, June 20. The cougar had been seen in the park's townsite repeatedly over the course of the previous week hunting mule deer fawns.

The cougars sightings began a week earlier, on June 13, when a Waterton cottage owner witnessed the animal hunt and kill a young fawn during daylight hours. The incident occurred at 9p.m. while the sun was still out.

This incident, and numerous others throughout the week, led park officials to believe the animal had become too brash and confident around people.

Cougars are normally "skittish" and wary of humans, said David Argument, Protection and Operations Coordinator for Waterton Lakes National Park. They generally take precautions not to be seen by people. This particular cougar, a mature100-pound female, had apparently lost its fear of mankind, and was willing to show itself to people in Waterton Lakes townsite.

At the next incident, the cougar allowed a park visitor to approach within close proximity for a photograph. According to Argument, the visitor was able to get "far too close" to the predator. Parks Canada urges visitors to keep a minimum distance of 100m from all predators, but it is not known exactly how close this particular visitor approached the cougar.

The cougar was also seen by RCMP officers on night patrol, and approached two hikers at a park trailhead in broad daylight. Parks Canada officials were also able to view the cougar throughout the week.

A community alert was posted around the townsite following the sightings.

Argument said the decision to destroy the animal was made in
accordance with the park's Carnivore Management Plan. According to Argument, the predator was hunting in a high-use visitor area, showing itself far too frequently, and appeared to have lost its fear of people. All of these factors led to the park's decision to destroy the animal. The animal was said to be in good health, and not driven by hunger to hunt within the townsite.

"We regret having to destroy wildlife in the park," said Argument, and stated that the National Park was intended for both humans and wildlife to share.

Three park officials, described as specialists in public safety, with the help of a Pincher Creek dog-handler and his hounds located the cougar at 11p.m. Saturday night, June 20, and destroyed the animal.

"In a mountain community like this, cougars are not uncommon."
Cougars must be handled differently than black and Grizzly bears, asserts Argument. Bears can be hazed away from the townsite, whereas hazing simply makes a cat more secretive while they remain in a town.
When a black or grizzly bear enters Waterton townsite, park wardens attempt to haze the animals with noise makers, noise pistols -and if necessary- rubber bullets. These tools, Argument insists, do not "damage" the animal, but give it a sting and "encourage" it to leave the townsite. This process -called hazing- is practiced by park officials on bears but not on cougars.

"It's hard to train a cat that way."

Parks Canada advises visitors to make eye-contact with a cougar, if seen. Cougars hunt secretively and attack from behind -make the animal aware that you see it. Families should keep watch over young children, and make noise while hiking to avoid startling a predator.


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