A prominent ecologist is questioning whether a cougar found in Moose Jaw, Sask., should have been killed.
On Monday night, Moose Jaw police shot a cougar that had been spotted several times throughout the day within city limits.
The animal was eventually found under a deck in a residential area. Conservation officers say it tried to escape and was killed.
The cougar was initially recorded on a doorbell camera as it walked across a resident’s yard early that morning.
Ecologist Cristina Eisenberg believes had the cougar not been spotted, it wouldn’t have bothered anyone.
“It was not an emaciated, starving animal that was in trouble,” she said.
“It was a confused animal. And if left alone, that cougar would have likely gravitated towards the brushy areas in the urban wildland interface.”
Eisenberg is a Smithsonian research associate and former chief scientist of Earthwatch Institute. She has written several books about the ecology of the prairies, especially predators.
She said cougars visit cities more often than you might think.
“The reality is that there are a lot more cougars in urban areas than anybody is even aware of,” she said.
“In areas where they have radio collared cougars or put GPS collars on them, such as in Waterton Lakes National Park in the town site, they found that cougars were often regularly in town and sleeping under people’s porches and nobody even knew they were there. And those cougars did not attack humans.”
The decision to kill the cougar has ignited debate on local Facebook groups within the city, with some arguing it was necessary and others saying the cougar did not need to die.
“My understanding was there was a lot of fear, perhaps, in the community and they just wanted to prevent any issues or accidents,” said Jayne Seargeant, who lives in Moose Jaw.
Bruce Reid, a conservation officer and inspection manager for the southwest section of the province, said police had no option but to shoot the animal. Reid wasn’t present when the cougar was killed.
Reid said the animal was spotted in a residential area and officers were concerned about people’s safety.
“This [cougar] had been in the city for in excess of 24 hours and we had no indication that he left and came back,” he said.
“As they were about to execute their plan [to kill the animal], the cat made another attempt to escape, and that’s when it was shot and killed.”
Reid said non-lethal options like traps or tranquilizer darts weren’t an option either.
“Tranquilizing is not easy and does not always go as smoothly as you see on the nature shows on television,” he said.
“Once the dart is on board the animal, even a calm animal takes four to seven minutes to [feel the] effect. That cat had already tried to successfully escape from us.”
Reid believes the cougar, which was between two and three years old, was disoriented and looking for new territory.
“It was either kicked out by its mother from where it was raised or had been displaced from where it was living by a larger cat,” he said.
“It was likely on the move, looking … for its own place to live.”
However, ecologist Eisenberg said the cougar would have eventually left the area and did not pose any danger to humans. She said there have only been 26 fatal cougar attacks on humans reported over the last 130 years in North America.
“The way to coexist with wild animals, especially carnivores, is by leaving them alone,” she said.
“Normally, if treated with respect and if left alone, cougars do not present a significant risk to humans.”
Eisenberg said it would be a good idea for the provincial government to place radio collars on cougars in the area to better track their movements.