ELKWATER — Officials plan to track and kill two young cougars they believe have attacked three pets in or around Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park over the past month.
The latest event happened Saturday night when a Jack Russell Terrier was let out of a cabin in Elkwater, about 75 kilometres southeast of Medicine Hat.
The dog was grabbed by a cougar before two owners jumped out of a hottub and scared off the cat.
The terrier escaped with only cuts and bruises and the owners were not injured.
Park manager Peter Swain said cougars are usually not brazen enough to hunt when people are around.
He said that makes the incident particularly concerning.
“The cougar would have been well aware there were people quite close by and still chose to attack the dog,” said Swain.
“As soon as you have a cougar that’s regularly preying on pets, it’s an issue in and of itself. But if it attacks while there are people present that’s atypical, and you just don’t take any risks.”
Conservation officers have been monitoring the situation since a dog was killed on a nearby ranch at the beginning of December.
Now, a hunting guide with dogs has been contracted and will begin tracking the cats as soon as fresh tracks appear in new snow that fell Sunday.
Once the cougars are treed by the dogs, conservation officers will take over and shoot them, said Swain.
Cameras set up following the first attack lead conservation officers to believe a pair of young cougars are responsible.
Cougars were confirmed to be living in the park in 2004 after decades of absence from the heavily wooded area that has a steep elevation and is isolated by hundreds of kilometres of grassland.
In 2012 it was estimated that there were about 20 to 40 cougars in the park that spans the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary.
A recent article in Canadian Geographic Magazine states that over 110 years there have been 20 human deaths reported to have involved a cougar attack.
Residents should be “very aware” not to let their pets out unattended or without a leash, and take measures to “cougar proof” their buildings.
That means that closing in decks and spaces under buildings where a cougar could seek shelter.
Swain said about 90 per cent of the 270 cabin owners in Elkwater have taken such measures, but all cabin owners need to block off the spaces.
“Ideally we want a situation where, if a cougar comes into town it keeps moving through, instead of finding good places to hide,” said Swain.
(Medicine Hat News)