moved to the Canmore area in November 1999, there was no doubt in my
mind that things were different. The wildlife calls and occurrences
had some similarities but overall the corridors and proximity of the
town itself created altogether different issues.
my first cougar-related call in December that year. Right on the edge
of town a couple had left their Akita dog out till they returned home
that evening. Much to their surprise a cougar found the dog to be more
appealing than they. The cougar took it virtually off the steps, tore
its throat out and dragged it down to the bush for dinner.
next year we received complaints that cougars had been sighted in and
around town. There were complaints that the odd dog and cat had gone
missing. A climber up at Grassi Lakes came face to face with a cougar
while climbing. He explained that he had quickly descended and left
the area Ñ we both felt that had been a wise choice. What it
all spelled out is that in places like Canmore, humans and wildlife
come in contact very regularly and I was sure I would be learning a
lot more about the issue.
a year to the day after the Akita's death, I received a call from the
veterinarian in Canmore asking if I would like to view a Labrador retriever
that had been killed by a cougar. I had already heard another dog had
been killed and was to investigate the death up in the Silvertip area
of Canmore. It was evident, upon viewing the retriever, that a cougar
had killed it. I then proceeded to the residence of Mr. Pele.
was pretty shook up. They had found the dog dead on the bottom portion
of a two-tier deck right outside their patio doors. From the blood on
the deck and the blood smeared on the glass railing it was evident there
was little struggle, as the biggest challenge the cougar had was how
to get it off the deck. It appeared the cat couldn't lift the dog over
the railing as it was all closed in. Something must have frightened
the big cat away. I called a local dog handler and guide, Flint Simpson.
Flint's experience with cats was very valuable and it was determined
that the cat was a female. We tracked the cougar until dark and headed
my number with the Peles, should the cat return. It did several times
and did so even at 2 p.m., two days later, staring in the upper deck
window of the residence, while the Pele family was inside. This again
unnerved the family. The parents wondered if they or their children
could be next on the menu. Of course we assured them this was very uncommon
behavior and to be very cautious. We would try to deal with the cat.
this time I had contacted the regional problem wildlife specialist,
Stan Hawes out of Cochrane. C.O. Hawes agreed something had to be done
and we began planning how to deal with the cougar. In light of past
situations we agreed it best to bring in another dog handler from the
Cochrane area, Tuff and Drew Ramsey as well as Flint Simpson and his
dogs. We had been consulting with the local biologist and district officer
meanwhile and had already briefed the area manager, Ray Andrews.
to the extreme cold we had experienced at the time we were unable to
run the cougar with dogs. The political turmoil hit its peak with the
RCMP being involved in complaints from the public as well as the newspaper
and letters to the editor making a circus of the issue. Cougar sightings
were being called in and another attack was investigated. Phone calls
were being received at the office and at officers' residential numbers.
But nothing compared to the calls we were to receive within a few days.
16, 2000, seven days after the Pele dog was killed, the cougar was back
at the family's house again. Apparently the cougar wanted to have her
dog and eat it too. That evening plans were made with C.O. Hawes and
with Simpson and Ramsey to work with the dogs at first light. This was
to be the first and last time I would deal with this cougar directly.
the next morning I loaded a bear trap with a bale that was to be the
cougar's home once it was treed by the dogs and tranquilized. At that
time consultation was to determine the fate of the big cat. There was
some question as to whether it had kittens or not. We had poor evidence
from tracks as we had very little snow that season.
rolled around and several conservation officers met, as well as all
the dog handlers and a local RCMP member, Al Stockley. We went through
the concerns and intentions to capture and hold the cat.
of our team, Rod Jaeger and Drew Ramsey, tracked the cougar from her
last known location. This provided us continuity and confirmation that
this was our cat. Tuff and Drew Ramsey, Flint Simpson and Al Stockley
readied the dogs. Officers Stan Hawes, Rod Jaeger and I prepared to
tree the cat.
to jump the big cat first even though tracks were around us everywhere.
He worked separately from the other dogs. Once the cougar was jumped
we found the remnants of a freshly eaten cat that the local people recognized
as someone's pet. The tracking continued until the cat was treed. She
stayed up there for only a short time, as we didn't have a chance to
immobilize her. After the third time the cougar was treed, I finally
darted her. As luck would have it something failed and the cougar came
out of the tree again.
with no intent to be chased by the dogs, she got ahead of the hounds
and waited in attack mode. The moment they rounded the corner the cougar
was on the dogs. She ate ones this size regularly. Right behind the
dogs was Flint, Al and me. All that was visible was a big ball of cougar
and dogs. Nobody was winning and positions changed rapidly.
the first dog but not before the cougar took a leap toward him. He yelled
for us to grab a dog and tie it up. Al grabbed the next dog and as I
got into the ball of fury and teeth I could see big Red was in the teeth
of the cougar. I shot the big cat with another dart and tried to separate
the dogs and the cat. Al was behind me yelling that this wasn't going
well. That thought had actually crossed my mind already.
time I began kicking the cougar and pushing dogs aside in hope that
the cat would attempt to get away. She just stared at me with those
big eyes and when the chance came she wouldn't leave. Al joined in the
effort and began helping, as Flint took out another dog or two. I recall
both of us actually kicking the cat, trying to separate it from the
dog, while wondering where those teeth would go next.
still giving me support, the only chance came as I drew my .40 calibre
glock pistol and shot the big cat once in the head. All was quiet once
again until I heard my cell phone ring. It was Stan Hawes asking what
happened as he had remained back and was setting up another dart
happened faster than one had any time to reflect upon. The decisions
we made at that moment were criticized by many and supported by as many
more. Overall the issue at hand was safety: for the public, the team,
the dogs and the cougar. Unfortunately, as I was advised by one good
officer, ÒThings have a way of going south". This was true.
learned from the whole incident that we live in corridors and fringe
areas where we will have continued confrontations. The people who live
in these areas need to consider everything they do in a different way,
to enable wild animals to live normal lives that don't habituate them,
such as this cougar had been. It's usually the complete series of events
and circumstances that lead the officer into a situation that may Ògo
south." But the conservation officer still has to perform his job no
matter how much the situation is stacked against his best efforts.
final saga of this cougar was that it actually did have two kittens.
We were initially unsuccessful in our search, due to poor snow conditions.
The media followed the events daily. Two weeks later, just after a snowstorm
and three days of tracking I finally cut the kitten's tracks. They were
already going to town for one reason or another and one kitten had died.
The surviving kitten ended up at Calgary Zoo and was later sent to the
Granby Zoo in Ontario. All in all, a lot of hours were spent and a lot
of teamwork was logged.
Wiebe is a member of
the Conservation Officers' Association
of Alberta in Canmore