Updated: Feb 4
by Lawrence Lannoo
(In part one of this series, we discuss the presence of cougars in Manitoba, as well as the relationship between these big cats and human beings.)
Despite the often frightening reputation cougars have in our culture and media, conservation efforts are being made to recognize and accept them as we have coyotes and bears.
Bill Watkins, a conservation zoologist who works with the province’s wildlife and fisheries department, said September 22nd cougars have received an undeservedly negative wrap from both the public and popular culture.
“Cougars are a species that excites the fascination of the public,” he said, “some for good, some for bad.
“That is unwarranted because we already live with wolves and coyotes and black bears, not to mention polar bears up north.”
Watkins admits a cougar can be a “potentially dangerous animal,” but he adds “they don’t go out looking for trouble.”
On the naturenorth.com website, it is noted cougars are one of two big cats on the North American and South American continents, the other being the jaguar.
Cougars can be found as far south as Argentina and as far north as the Yukon.
They are members of the Felidae, or cat family, of mammals. In Manitoba, there are three wild members of this group, including the cougar, lynx and bobcat.
As described on the naturenorth.com website: “A cougar is a very large cat, males average 60 - 80 kg in weight and around 240 cm in length, from nose to tip of the tail. A good portion of that is tail though, about 80 - 90 cm. Females tend to be smaller, averaging around 40 - 50 kg kg. Standing on all fours cougars are about 60 - 80 cm tall at the shoulders. Both sexes are an even tawny brown colour with white around the muzzle. Their long tails are tipped in black. The young, called kittens, are lighter in colour with distinct dark spots.”
Cougars are carnivores that seem to prefer elk or deer if they are available, the site continues, and will easily to transition to smaller prey like porcupines, rabbits and even mice if larger game are lacking.
Watkins said historical records indicate cougars were in the province at the time the area was being visited by the early explorers.
That was the case in the 1800s when settlers arrived, Watkins added, but they had probably disappeared by the latter half of that century.
“They were hunted, trapped and shot on sight by the original farmers,” he added, “and that was because they would take the odd animal of livestock.”
“That was the fear anyway.”
Watkins said observers have speculated for years about the presence or lack of cougars in Manitoba.
Some have suggested they disappeared completely, he added, while others speculated they never left, but were available in low numbers.
“We have no way of knowing for sure,” Watkins said, “but we do know there has been an upward trend in sightings in the last 16-17 years.”
(Coming soon: more sightings and how to react to a cougar encounter.)
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