Conservation officers have euthanized four young cougars beside a walking trail at Cranbrook’s Elizabeth Lake.
The seven-month-old siblings were put down on Sunday beside the lake, within eyesight of Parkland Middle School, said Cranbrook Conservation Officer (CO) Jared Connatty.
“It’s a really unfortunate thing; I don’t like doing that,” said Connatty. “But the alternative is much more grim.”
Connatty said that a resident called the CO service on Saturday night to report a cougar killing a deer in their backyard, close to the school.
“We responded (Sunday) morning to assess the situation and discovered that there is likely multiple cougars involved, which usually means a family unit – female and young ones, though we didn’t know how young they were.”
Connatty set his four service hounds on the trail of the cougars, and the four young cats were quickly treed nearby.
“That’s a really good opportunity for us to assess them – to look and see what we’ve got.”
He realized the cougars were young – later confirming they were about seven months old. The COs decided they needed to euthanize the animals, who were not with their mother.
“The rationale behind that was: for one thing, I could see the school from where they were treed, right close to a residential area, a heavily used walking trail, people everywhere, and they were laying right there,” said Connatty.
“The other concerning part is at that age, they are learning how to hunt. Oftentimes, they will try to assist the mother cougar in her killing efforts when they are trying to catch their prey.
“As you can imagine, having this within a few hundred yards of the school and a residential area and a heavily used walking trail around Elizabeth Lake, we don’t need four juvenile cougars getting really curious.”
The COs removed the deer kill from the backyard, but that night the mother returned.
On Monday morning, Connatty said he set his hounds off once more to track the female cougar. They followed the cougar for four hours. It travelled out to Silver Springs, then back over the south hill to the area beyond the Scandinavian Lodge on 4th Avenue. There, the hounds treed the female cougar.
Connatty said the COs are familiar with this animal.
“We had some good history with this cougar. It’s known to be a deer and an elk killer, which is a good thing,” he said.
Because it has a long history of normal behaviour, the COs decided to tranquilize the cougar, fit her with a GPS collar, and release her in the same area.
“The one point I really would like to get across is that this cougar is doing normal and natural behaviour in an abnormal, unnatural place,” said Connatty.
“She’s a deer killer – that is normal and natural. So we felt that we need to allow her to live a little longer. Because what can happen is if we remove her, she’s a mature female, they have territorial instincts, she has been living there her whole life. That opens up that area to a cougar that’s not as good.”
He pointed out that it’s unusual for a female cougar to have four kittens in a litter – the average is two or three.
“That has just eliminated a whole ton of stress. With four kittens, she’s expected to kill a lot more frequently,” said Connatty.
He said one deer kill would feed five cougars for two days. On its own, the female cougar will only need to kill a deer every five to seven days.
“It’s really important to identify that this is not a typical response for us. But we had the opportunity and every once in a while, the situation will lend itself to that,” said Connatty.
He said if the cougar had killed a dog or livestock, they would have euthanized the female as well because it’s a learned behaviour.
As it is, the COs will monitor the cougar’s GPS path closely.
“If she starts to show signs of increased time in town or the potential to become a public safety issue like we felt the juveniles were, then we will make a decision as to what needs to be done at that point. But as of now, we don’t have any major concerns with her because she’s a good cougar. She’s doing what she’s supposed to do and there’s lots of deer and elk in that area. And that’s where we left her.”
Connatty said that Cranbrook’s urban deer sometimes draw cougars into the edge of town.
“We don’t often get cougar brave enough to come into these urban environments. Where we generally see them is on the outskirts where they have green belts that they can approach the area that way.
“Cougar are a stalking animal. They don’t run their prey down; they stalk in close and it’s a really quick killing effort when they attack their prey.
“They need the cover; they need the bush. They need that stuff to sneak around and get in close to things. That’s why people don’t see them that often.”
Connatty said COs have not received any other reports of cougar sightings around Cranbrook in the past week.
You can report cougar sightings to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277.