Over the years, cougars, also known as mountain lions or pumas, have been sighted in southeast Saskatchewan, with one recently being seen near Griffin.
Conservation Officer with the Ministry of Environment, Lindsey Leko, said the sightings don’t happen often, making it difficult for anyone to even get a photograph of the wild cats.
“They are part of our landscape. They’re here now, and we’ve never, ever denied the fact that they’re here. I think that sometimes people worry more than they have to,” Leko said. “In the big picture, cougars have a right to co exist with us in this environment.”
He noted people can certainly report cougar sightings to the Ministry of Environment, for the sake of awareness.
“There are definitely characteristics about them that identify them and make them stand out from other animals, so we don’t have an issue with that happening,” said Leko. “But what we don’t want to see is, it always happens if people put it on Facebook, and then it just generates hysteria and panic, and that’s what we kind of want to get away from, because they’re here now, and having that type of discussion about them, and the fear, isn’t really necessary.”
He said the cougars’ primary prey is deer.
“They’ve been known to eat porcupines and some of the smaller animals as well,” he explained, noting that if a raccoon were to cross the path of a cougar, it might get eaten.
“Deer is their primary diet, and as long as they’re continuing to eat the deer and not getting in anybody’s way or affect anyone’s livestock operations or something like that, which happens very rarely, then everything is good,” said Leko.
He said the cougar populations in the southeast likely originate from the Cypress Hills area.
“The cougars will have their young, and they will eventually be kicked out of the den, the mother will kick them out,” he explained. “They’ve got to find a new area or territory, and I think that’s what’s happening, is a lot of times when people are seeing these cougars, they’re transient cats that are looking for a home.”
Forest fires in the Cypress Hills area could also account for the increase of cougar populations in recent years.
Leko advised that the best thing to do when you see a cougar is to be loud and intimidating, much in the opposite way of handling a bear-sighting.
“If you do happen to encounter a cougar, the bottom line is just making sure that it doesn’t sense that you’re prey, you want to make yourself look as big as possible, make some noise, and grab your kids and your pets and just watch what it does,” he said, noting that, just like when a bear is present, it’s most important to be conscientious around it.
While cougars are naturally afraid of humans, Leko said that if a cougar is encroaching on your property, destroying the animal might be the only option.
"Realistically, you'd be fully justified in destroying it," he said. "Even tho they are protected, we have a right as a landowner to protect ourselves, protect our property, protect our families."
He said the protocol in such an instance is to inform the Ministry of Environment.