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Cougar spotted feeding at Woodlawn Regional Park

The predator, feasting on a deer at night, was caught on camera March 8-11, however, the concerns of a cat present in the area were discussed on social media and among the community in the days previous.
Cougar woodlawn
First, a cougar's kill site, and then a cougar itself were spotted and caught on camera at Woodlawn Regional Park.

ESTEVAN - A cougar was spotted at Woodlawn Regional Park on the weekend.

The predator, feasting on a deer at night, was caught on camera March 8-11, however, the concerns of a cat present in the area were discussed on social media and among the community in the days previous.

First some potential cougar tracks, and then a kill site typical for a cat, were spotted at Woodlawn, which made Estevan's Barry Schulte, who lives nearby and tends to the park, install a trail camera on the Souris River.

"My daughter sent that to me from Facebook that somebody figured there was a cougar kill in the park. And I went down there and found where it dragged it to. On some of the pictures, I saw it was covered up with grass, which is likely a cougar kill, but I turned it over, and the only thing that was picked on was on the back where the birds were picking on it. No other marks on it. But there was a cat track there, so I put a camera up," Schulte said. 

It was the first time he caught a cat on a camera. He wasn't sure it was indeed a cat until he saw the footage. Some people living alongside the Souris River and Long Creek not far from Woodlawn Park also have noticed that their dogs were acting weird, sniffing the air and excessively barking lately.

Conservation officer Lindsey Leko confirmed that it was indeed a cougar. 

"It is definitely a cat. The photo was grainy, but you can't mistake that long tail and the black tip on it," Leko said. "March 4 we were made aware of a possible kill sight of a deer, and often what cougars will do is they will kill a deer, they'll feed on it and then they'll bury it and cache it and come back a little bit later on or the next day. And that's what was located."

Leko said the fact that we have a cat in the area "is not really as big of a deal."

"Cougars are a common part of our landscape melt. It's not like you see a cougar and it's an unknown thing; cats are out there. The chances of seeing one are very, very slim and the chances of being attacked by one are even slimmer," Leko said, adding that throughout his 25-year-long career he's never seen a cat in the wild.

Cougars are usually something that people are really afraid of, but Leko assumed that a lot of this fear comes with it being rather unknown and less understood.

"Cats are an elusive thing, kind of mysterious as we don't know a lot of them," Leko said.

Often people don't know how to behave if they are in a cougar country, however, the general principles are the same with bear awareness. 

"The thing with a cat is that they don't want to be seen, they don't want interactions with people. They're a solitary animal, they like to be by themselves, and they do not like the attention," Leko said.

He added that while there is no doubt that the cat was and might still be around the area, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's here to stay; however it might very well be the case.

"Just by looking at that picture, it is one of two things. It's either an adult cat that has a territory, and what a cat will do is it'll patrol (their territory) …  they'll walk their territory, and if they're hungry, they're going to feed. Or option number two would be that it's a juvenile that got kicked out by a mother and it's looking for its own territory. Cats are pretty defensive of their own territory, but sometimes if it's a juvenile, it is just looking for their own place that they can call their own and it can be just passing through."

Until conservation officers have more information about the cat's habits, its size, etc. it's hard to say what kind of a visitor Woodlawn Park has. If the appearances come to an end soon, it would mean that the animal was passing through.

In general, Leko said the whole Souris Valley River system with its landscape, trees, water and food is a "perfect habitat" for cats, but their territory is usually pretty wide, and this particular animal might have been closer to the city just because it was checking out its acres.

Schulte said as of Monday he didn't see any other signs of the cougar's presence anywhere else but the river, but he believes the cat might indeed be living in the area. Leko noted that cougar tracks won't have claw prints, as, just like domestic cats, these predators retract their claws when walking. And with snow melting, canine and other animals' prints may seem bigger, and might mistakenly be taken for cougar tracks. However, Leko said that if people come across a feeding sight, which would typically be a deer, porcupine or other smaller mammals, they should stay away from it for their own safety.

He also pointed out that understanding that cougars are generally in the area is key to adjusting behaviour while out in the woods and thus staying safe.

"If you're a person who likes to go out and go hiking, if you were out in a bear country, you'd take bells with you, you'd take all sorts of different stuff, you might take bear spray … just to be safe. And it's really no different with a cat. You're going to want to make a lot of noise … And we got to remember that cougars are rarely aggressive towards people. They're pretty secretive and avoid contact as much as possible. Just be aware that you're in cat country. If you got a small dog when out hiking, have it on a leash. Keep your kids close and don't let them go wander off," Leko said, adding that cougars very rarely attack livestock and tend to avoid any interaction with people. 

Even if a cat is living in the area, relocating it, unless it comes right into the city – which is highly unlikely – is not something usually done in the case of cougars. They are very unpredictable and difficult to do anything with when being tranquillized. Besides, they are territorial and their territories are broad, so relocating it will just create issues in another area.