Are There Cougars in Ontario?

 

It’s a question Ministry of Natural Resources staff are often asked. After all, the last known cougar in the province was shot way back in 1884. There’s never been a definitive photo taken of a cougar in Ontario.

How do you prove cougars live in Ontario? For the last five years, ministry researchers have been looking for evidence. With the public’s help, they have documented cougar tracks. They’ve found scat (feces) which has tested positive for cougar DNA. And they’ve seen evidence of cougars in the distinctive way other animals are killed.

 

“In those five years, we’ve only collected about 30 pieces of evidence from the far northwest of the province to the south,” says ministry senior research scientist Rick Rosatte. “So while we know there are cougars in the province, we also know they are extremely rare.”   

 

Ministry researchers are still trying to get that elusive photograph of a cougar. Rosatte interviews people who think they've spotted a cougar. Almost all sightings turn out to be bobcats, fisher, deer, coyotes, lynx – even house cats. But if the sighting sounds likely, he sets up a camera that is triggered by motion and heat.

 

What have the cameras captured? So far, no cougars. Check out the other wildlife one camera caught.

 

 

 

“We’d love to get a definitive photo of a cougar,” Rosatte says. “But these animals are very fast, and their range is vast – they can travel more than 1,000 kilometres.”

 

Researchers are also trying to learn where Ontario cougars come from.

 

“It’s likely that escaped or intentionally released cougars – from zoos and private homes – are responsible for at least some of the sightings,” Rosatte says. “Or they could be a genetic mix from different sources – remnants of a small native population or migrants from the west.”

 

Although most “cougar sightings” are actually other animals, people should use caution if they think they see a cougar. Cougars generally avoid humans, but escaped pets might let you approach them. If you believe your personal safety is somehow threatened contact the local police services or call 911 immediately.

 

Ministry researchers would like to hear from Ontarians who think they have photographs of the animal or tracks, or hair or feces.  Contact rick.rosatte@ontario.ca.