Since the mid 1970’s to the present day there have been several
hundred reported sightings. In addition, there are a considerable amount
of sightings that have not been reported.
The last confirmed report of a cougar in New Brunswick was in 1932. A
hunter in Kent County shot a cougar while it was resting in a tree.
Furthermore, the last confirmed report of a cougar in Eastern Canada was
in 1938. A large tawny colored cat (suspected to be a cougar) was
trapped in Quebec near the Maine border. Since then there have been
numerous reported sightings, but the lack of substantial evidence
questions the existence of this animal in our forests.
The cougar can be described as being 6-9 feet (1.8-2.7 m) in length
(from nose to tip of tail), 100-150 pounds (45.5-68.2 kg) and a shoulder
height of 26-30 inches (65-75 cm). The track is large (4 inches (10 cm)
in width) and resembles a large bobcat or lynx track. Cougars are
typically most active at night and are tawny brown to gray in color.
Each year in New Brunswick there are approximately 40 reported
sightings of cougar. The most common sightings are from cars or while
people are walking. The observer typically sees a large cat-size animal
jump out of the woods and run across the road. The length of time the
animal is in the field of view is normally for a few seconds.
Every district office of the Department of Natural Resources and
Energy (DNRE) has "eastern cougar report forms". When people
believe they have seen a cougar they are asked to fill out a form. One
of the questions on this report form is: " what color was the
animal that you saw?" If the individual states the animal they saw
was dark brown or black, the "red flags" go up.
There has never been a reported black cougar in North America. Here
in New Brunswick we have a number of animals that can be confused as
being a "black" cat. There are fisher (Martes pennanti),
dark colored coyotes (Canis latrans), black bears (Ursus
americanus) and not to mention domestic dogs and cats. All of these
when glanced at could resemble a large dark-colored cat. However, if the
report is convincing a DNRE staff member will visit the site and take
pictures, measure tracks/stride, collect scat and hair samples and
perhaps take plaster casts of tracks.
Although the existence of cougar looks uncertain, there have been a
few convincing stories and some credible evidence. In 1992 provincial
wildlife biologists responded to a call in the Juniper area. What they
found was cat tracks (approximately 4 inches in width) and strides of 4
feet in length. These clues most certainly suggest a very large cat.
Scat was also collected along the trail and sent for testing. Analysis confirmed that hair in the scat sample was cougar hair based on
the hair's banding pattern and scale morphology.
A letter from 1993 confirmed the hair, found in the scat from Juniper, as being
cougar. The testing was done by the Canadian Museum of Nature (tests
were conducted by C. (Stan) G. van Zyll de Jong). The hairs were suspected of being ingested during grooming after feeding.
In October (2000) an American bear hunter reported seeing a cougar
while hunting over bait. The guide had seen large cat tracks in the
grease and fat around the bait from the night before. At 5:30 p.m. in
the afternoon the hunter saw a cougar approach the bait site. The cat
paused for a few minutes to look things over and was approximately 40
metres away. After looking things over the cat walked past the bait and
into the near by softwood stand. The hunter saw the cat for a total of
10 minutes. After receiving a phone call from the guide a DNRE biologist
responded to the call and made a visit to the site. By that time (as
usual) the tracks melted in the fat and the cougar was nowhere to be
found. The guide made a good point and said that there was an increase
in human activity a couple of days after the sighting because of the
start of deer season, perhaps the animal was scared away. The hunter no
doubt saw something, but without a picture, a plaster cast of the animal’s
track or some other credible evidence, it is difficult to convince
(photo: Mark Pulsifer)
If a cougar is found in New Brunswick there will be several questions
that have to be addressed. DNA testing will have to be completed to
determine if the animal is an actual eastern cougar or an escaped
western cougar. The evidence will also allow us to determine if the
province’s cougars are part of an eastern population of cougar. Until
we get the evidence that is necessary to confirm cougar in New
Brunswick, the biologists and the public will continue to debate the
status of cougar in our province.