Cougar shot in Muskoka likely an escaped pet
The last confirmed sighting of a wild cougar was more than 100 years ago
By Brandy Harrison
UTTERSON — Wild cougars may still roam the Ontario backwoods but a cougar shot in the Muskoka region last month likely won’t prove it — a preliminary autopsy found the female feline’s front paws had been de-clawed, suggesting it was likely an escaped pet.
After a week of reports flooding in about a large cat, the cougar was spotted prowling around the small community of Utterson, 60 kilometres west of Algonquin Park, on July 6. Police scared it into the woods but it returned the following night and mauled a family dog. Police deemed the large cat a safety risk and shot it.
"It was just sitting there, not showing any fear and not making a move when approached. That’s not normal behaviour for a wild animal," says Jolanta Kowalski, spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).
DNA analysis continues at the University of Guelph.
The last confirmed sighting of a wild cougar was in 1884, more than 100 years ago. Despite a spike in sightings over the last two decades, 95 per cent of the time people who think they’ve caught a glimpse of the rare cat are actually staring down fishers, bobcats, coyotes, or even house cats.
Cougar fever spreads and ratchets up public anxiety when the media pick up a story but Kowalski emphasizes there has never been a confirmed cougar attack on a human in Ontario.
A 2010 MNR study drawing on 500 pieces of evidence, including scat, hair, and paw prints, confirmed there are cougars in Ontario. The motion- and heat-activated trail cameras used in the four-year study couldn’t capture a photo of the elusive feline and the origins of Ontario’s cougars — whether they’re remnants of a native population, escaped pets, released animals or a genetic mix of all three — remain a mystery.