Cougar attacks concern residents

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Recent reports of cougar attacks on animals in the Priddis area have residents concerned about the safety of their pets and livestock.

Fish and Wildlife have received four reports of suspected cougar incidents involving pets in the Priddis area since the beginning of September.

Public affairs officer Brendan Cox said these incidents are not out of the ordinary.

“The cougar population in Alberta is very healthy and we are starting to see cougars in a lot of different locations across the province and maybe even places where they haven’t been seen traditionally,” he said. “It’s something that we encourage people to be aware of. There’s not necessarily an increased public safety risk.”

According to Cox, officers received a report of a dog that went missing near the Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club on Oct. 9. The report states a cougar was seen at the back step of the home, yet officers haven’t confirmed the animal was responsible for the missing dog.

Officers received another report on Sept. 28 that a dead cougar and cat were spotted beneath a power pole four miles east of Priddis. Cox said it’s believed the cougar followed the cat up the pole and both were electrocuted.

On Sept. 4, officers were told a miniature horse was killed by a cougar three miles west of the Priddis golf club. Officers suggested they use the animal to bait the cougar, but the owner refused and no further action was taken, Cox said.

The report came from rancher Steve Caldera, who suspects they lost two barn cats to cougars just days before their three-year-old miniature stallion Peanut was killed.

When the horse was attacked, Caldera’s teenager daughter heard a commotion from her bedroom window at about 5:30 a.m.

Although Caldera rushed out with his gun, he said the cougar had already killed the family pet.

“I wasn’t quick enough,” he said. “I shined the light and there he was.”

Two nights later, a cougar attacked one of their quarter-horses, leaving a scratch on its chest and taking a chunk out of its right shoulder.

“In my experience as a hunter I know cougars don’t normally go after domestic animals,” he said. “I’ve had horses my whole life and lived on ranches my whole life and I never heard of them attacking full-grown horses.”

Caldera said the 29-inch-tall Peanut shared a pen with the larger horses which is only 10 yards from their house.

“Prior to that my neighbour told me two cougars had taken her puppy off her porch at three in the afternoon,” he said. “She said, ‘You better watch your mini horse.’ I wasn’t worried because he was in with the full grown horses. I thought he’d be okay with the big horses running around.”

Since the two cougar attacks, Caldera installed brighter lights in his yard, he keeps his pets in the house and shed, drives his 80 acres frequently looking for signs of cougars and keeps in contact with neighbours.

“I haven’t seen or heard any sign in the last few weeks,” he said.

Caldera suggested to Fish and Wildlife that they try to find the animal, but he said their response was that it would cost $500. He offered to pay the amount, but said they refused.

“It seems to me it’s a problem cougar,” he said. “I don’t want to see another animal get killed.”

Fish and Wildlife officers did trap and destroy a cougar that reportedly killed a goat one mile east of the golf course on Sept. 2 to prevent the animal from continuing to rely on livestock and domestic pets as a food source, said Cox.

“Cougars typically will prey on game and hares or rabbits, but they do sometimes look at small pets as prey animals,” he said. “We strongly encourage people to phone the Report-a-Poacher line as soon as possible relating to any incidents like this.

“The sooner you report it the sooner officers can go out and handle that situation.”

Heidi MacDonald lives north of the golf course and has both dogs and cattle.

MacDonald said she is very concerned, and is not the only one.

“Lots of us are on alert here,” she said. “A lot of us are very nervous.”

MacDonald said she’s heard from friends and neighbours in the area that two dogs and two miniature horses have been killed by cougars in recent weeks. She is trying to get in contact with the people to get more details.

“What I’m gathering is not everybody has contacted Fish and Wildlife,” she said.

Cox said Fish and Wildlife officers have been unable to confirm any other incidents, but say these types of attacks happen on occasion. He said a miniature horse was killed by a cougar last year.

“Given the number of incidents throughout the course of the year it’s not considered significant or necessarily out of the ordinary,” he said.

“Fish and Wildlife officers are always encouraging people to keep their pet on a leash if you’re out walking it because the chances of any sort of incident with a cougar are diminished because cougars are typically rather shy of humans.”

Residents living in rural areas where there may be cougars around are encouraged to keep their pets indoors as much as possible and keep a close eye on them.

Anyone who sees a cougar or an incident relating to a cougar can call 1-800-642-3800.

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