'Cougar sightings are very rare'

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

This photo, purporting to show a cougar or bobcat in a tree near the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ont., was posted in May to a Facebook group called I Love St. Marys — The Town Worth Living.

This photo, purporting to show a cougar or bobcat in a tree near the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Marys, Ont., was posted in May to a Facebook group called I Love St. Marys — The Town Worth Living.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has determined that photos of tracks sent to them by a Brantford woman who says she saw a cougar in Simcoe were actually made by a dog.

Sue Suprun said she's sure she spotted a cougar roaming near Oakwood Cemetery in Simcoe on the night of July 13.

But Jolanta Kowalski, senior media relations officer for the ministry, said that a biologist who looked at the images confirmed the tracks weren't made by a cougar.

"Actual cougar sightings are very rare," said Kowalski. "About 99.9 per cent of the time it is misidentification. Cougars are extremely elusive. To see one would be very, very unusual."

Suprun said she was leaving the cemetery in her car at about 9:30 p.m. on July 13 when she saw an animal.

"We were on the last road leaving the cemetery when, along the treeline, I saw what I thought was a dog," said Suprun. "Then realized it was a large wildcat."

Suprun, who estimates she was between 30 and 40 feet from the animal, said she quickly determined it was a cougar.

"I've never had that kind of jaw-dropping moment in my life," she said. "I was in shock that night."

Suprun said she called the Norfolk OPP to report the sighting and ask if they had heard anything about wild cats on the loose.

She went back to the cemetery the next day in the hope of finding evidence of the cougar. Suprun said she found three sets of tracks of what she believes to be an adult male and female cougar and those of a cub.

Norfolk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk said police received calls on July 16 from two people each reporting a cougar sighting in the Oakwood Cemetery area. He said the callers were adamant that what they saw was a cougar and not some other type of animal.

Sanchuk said officers went to the site but found "no signs that would lead to believe it could be a cougar."

However, he said Ministry of Natural Resources staff indicated it "wasn't impossible" for a cougar to be in the area.

Kowalski said the ministry also received a call Wednesday from someone who said they saw a cougar roaming somewhere off of Highway 24 in Simcoe about 10 days earlier.

A posting on the ministry website says that, while cougars are most likely believed to live in northern Ontario because of the remoteness of the habitat, there have been many reports from the southern part of the province.

"Cougars found in Ontario may be escaped or released pets, animals dispersing from western North America, native animals or a combination of those factors," says the website.

The cougar, also known as mountain lion and puma, is considered endangered and facing imminent extinction.

It is Canada's largest and most powerful wildcat. Males can reach up to two metres in length and weigh more than 60 kilograms. Adult cougars have short fur that is brown or greyish (sometimes reddish) over most of the body, with a white chest and belly.

It has a long, black-tipped tail and black markings on the ears and muzzle. Kit-tens have spotted coats until they are about six months old. The cougar is a shy animal rarely seen by humans.

The ministry tracks species at risk, such as the cougar. There is an online form to report sightings to the Natural Heritage Information Centre. Photographs with specific locations and mapping co-ordinates are helpful. The ministry can be reached at 1-800-667-1940.

Although Sanchuk said there is no proof of a roaming cougar in Simcoe, he urged people to be cautious and "use common sense."

Never approach a wild animal or try feed it and always have pets on a leash and put away in the house at night.

Sanchuk said there have been several reports of coyotes roaming populated areas of Port Dover at night and during the day. He said police aren't equipped to trap animals.

A cougar or bobcat sighting was reported in St. Marys, Ont., in May when a woman saw a large animal in a tree while taking her dog for a walk down a trail, near the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. A cougar sighting was reported this year in LaSalle, south of Windsor. A cougar was captured near Cobourg in 2014.

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