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Official says security cam photo taken in northern Ont. appears to be a cougar

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A viewer sent CTV News Northern Ontario a security camera photo of what appears to be a cougar crossing behind his camp.

“Caught this picture on my trail cam this morning (June 28) behind my camp on Apsey Lake in Espanola,” Kurt Gillis told CTV in an email.

“Thought I would share since cougar sightings are so rare.”

We sent the photo to Daniel Pouliot of Parks Canada, the manager of resource conservation at Pukaskwa National Park in Heron Bay.

While it’s difficult to be certain from a single security camera photo taken at night, Pouliot said “it does indeed look like a cougar.”

“The image is blurry and estimating the size is difficult without having knowledge of the dimensions of the background shrubs/trees,” Pouliot said in an email.

“It’s also missing the long tail, which is characteristic of the species. Again, it does look like a cougar, but it is impossible to be completely certain.”

Pouliot said cougar sightings are rare in northern Ontario, but have become more frequent in recent years.

A viewer sent CTV News Northern Ontario a security camera photo of what appears to be a cougar crossing behind his camp on June 28. (Photo courtesy of Kurt Gillis)

“Cougars are often described as shy and will generally avoid areas where humans are most active,” he said.

“Pukaskwa National Park has been using multiple trail cameras to study wildlife for more than a decade and we have only detected a cougar once in that time.”

"Cougars have large home ranges and (are) able adapt to a variety of environments,” Pouliot added.

He said their adaptability is illustrated by the fact they have been found in South, Central and North America.

“From a safety perspective, cougars are incredibly quiet for their large size and are very good at not being seen if they do not want to be," Pouliot said.

"To avoid an unwanted encounter, avoid hiking after dusk when cougars are most active, avoid hiking alone and keep your dog on a leash at all times.”

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the cougar “is Canada’s largest and most powerful wildcat.”

“Males can reach up to two metres in length and weigh over 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.”

A cougar stalks through Pukaskwa National Park near Marathon, Ont. in January 2021. (Supplied)

A cougar was spotted at Pukaskwa in 2021. Officials confirmed it in 2022 when they collected the SD cards from the cameras and made their surprising discovery.

Chad O'Halloran, of Pukaskwa National Park, told CTV the park has two dozen motion-activated trail cameras in the backcountry that are used to study wildlife. Officials stitched together 20 photos of the cougar – taken in January 2021 -- to make a short video.

O'Halloran said the team searched the other SD cards and found images of the same cougar captured on another camera about 15 kilometres away from where it was first seen within about three weeks.

At the time, Pouliot said the closest cougar breeding grounds are in the Dakotas, Minnesota and even Manitoba.

Male cougars can have a home range of 500 square kilometres while females are usually less than 200 square kilometres.

Pouliot said signs to watch for include encountering a food cache, scratch marks or fresh tracks. If you see any of these signs, he said people should leave the area immediately.

“If an encounter occurs, you should convince the animal that you are a threat and not prey by making a lot of noise, making yourself as big as possible with arms overhead, ensure the animal is not backed into a corner and back away slowly,” Pouliot said.

“Do not run, and be sure to pick up children or small pets.”

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