Saturday, August 01, 2009

Canada: Researcher shares findings about Alberta cougars

Researcher shares some findings about Cypress Hills cougars

Written by Publisher
Thursday, 30 July 2009
By Rose Sanchez
Cypress Hills-Alberta

About 40 people took the time to learn more about cougars in the Cypress Hills.
As part of Parks Day activities July 18th, Michelle Bacon, earning her Masters through the University of Alberta by researching cougars in the Cypress Hills, shared some of her findings.

She said people knew cougars were in the Cypress Hills when they began to be seen on wildlife cameras set up in various areas of the interprovincial park. Once there were family groups pictured, conservation officers knew the animals were breeding and thus making the Cypress Hills their home.

They are elusive, nocturnal animals who shy away from humans and activity, so a cougar sighting is rare.

Bacon shared some of the traits of the big cats and the signs they can leave behind of their presence such as tracks, or kill sites.

"Most cougar sightings last less than five seconds, so just because there is a cougar in the area, it doesn't mean it's a threat to your safety," she said.
She offered some tips when sharing space with cougars including to not feed wildlife, making noise when hiking, keeping pets secure on a leash or indoors at night, not leaving food outside, removing dense vegetation from cottages and closing in open spaces such as under decks.

If individuals are lucky enough to encounter a cougar they should make noise and try to appear larger than they are. Don't run and if on the rare chance a cougar attacks, fight back.

As part of Bacon's research she is studying where cougars are roaming in the Cypress Hills, how many there are and if their usage changes depending on the season, as well as what they are eating.

She has fitted a total of six cougars with GPS collars, two males, one of which is now dead, and four females.

The largest male she caught, weighing in at about 180 pounds and which died from a blow to the ribcage by an elk earlier this spring, had a territory of 350 square kilometres.

So far after visiting more than 200 kill sites, Bacon says the cougars are consuming mainly deer — 43 per cent white-tailed deer and 20 per cent mule deer. About 14 per cent of their diet is elk. There has not been one livestock kill found in her research so far.

Her best estimates in terms of the number of adult cougars roaming the Cypress Hills is between 12 to 15.

"They're staying away from the townsite when there's a lot of people around and they're eating the wildlife, not livestock," said Bacon.

The Cypress Hills is the most eastern part of Western Canada where researchers know cougars are breeding.

Bacon's field research will continue until the end of the year, thanks to new grant funding. She will spend six months writing up her thesis and compiling all of the information and data gathered. That report will be used by Cypress Hills officials in making management decisions about the interprovincial park.


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