A possible cougar sighting in Red Deer seems to have captured the local imagination.
Last Friday’s Advocate story about a cougar spotted near 32nd Street and 47th Avenue generated more than 100 comments on Facebook, and a number of people had their own cougar tales.
One commenter said a friend’s dog once chased a cougar up a tree near the town’s water treatment plant in the Riverside Industrial area.
Another said he sees cougar tracks down by the Red Deer River every year. Many said cougars tend to follow the river, which sometimes leads the elusive predators into the city.
Jean Bota, who lives in Canyon Heights, about three kilometres east of Red Deer, would not be surprised that one of the big cats was spotted in the city.
“We have them out east of town a lot,” said Bota, who is a Red Deer County councillor.
Five or six years ago, she was out walking with friends when they saw what they at first thought was a dog.
“We could see it in the distance. Then one said, ‘Look at the tail on that.’”
It was no dog.
Fortunately, the cougar loped off across the road and back into the bush, paying no mind to the nearby humans.
Bota said a friend of hers who lives in Oriole Park West believes cougars have made appearances around the trails in the Maskepetoon Park area between the subdivision and Highway 2.
She also met a woman one day at a local grocery store, who told her that she was riding her bike in the Oriole Park area and saw a cougar as well.
Kerry Wood Nature Centre’s Todd Nivens said they have never confirmed a cougar sighting, nor found footprints, or a carcass that looked like it had been eaten or stored away by a cougar.
The closest they have come to a cougar sighting came from a pair of caretakers at the Michener Centre, just south of the nature sanctuary. About 10 years ago, the two, who had extensive hunting and fishing experience, said they saw a cougar in the sanctuary.
“There was a lot of talk about cougars in Red Deer around then,” said Nivens. “But Fish and Wildlife never confirmed that one either.”
A few years ago, Nivens went out to a homeowner who lived in the Normandeau area who thought a cougar had left tracks in the mud near his home.
There were only two footprints, and Niven said the best he could offer was that he could not say for sure they were not from a cougar.
Past cougar reports have turned out to be deer, and in one case, a Great Dane.
Nivens is reminded of a supposed alligator sighting in the Blindman River a few years back. It turned out to be a sturgeon that had taken a wrong turn from the Red Deer River.
While extremely unlikely a cougar wandered into town, it is not impossible. Predators follow prey and plenty of deer wander into the area along wildlife corridors.
“The long and the short of it, I don’t know what to make of (the sighting),” he said.
But even if this was not a cougar, some day, one could turn up.
“It’s going to happen one day and it’s not going to surprise me.”
Outside the city, cougars have made an appearance a few times over the years.
A Stettler County man was startled just before Christmas 2018 when a cougar turned up in one of his coyote snares.
The year before, a Byemoor man shot and killed a cougar on his rural property.
In June 2017, Rocky Mountain House residents were shocked to see a cougar walking down the main street. It eventually took refuge in a tree near an elementary school, where, unfortunately, it had to be put down because of safety concerns.
Wildlife biologists say cougars rarely pose a danger to humans. In the past 20 years, there has been only one fatal cougar attack in Alberta. In 2001, a woman was killed while cross-country skiing in Banff National Park.
In all of North America, there are about three or four cougar attacks on humans a year, although the number is increasing as human populations move closer to cougar territory, says information on the Alberta Fish and Wildlife website.