Richard Poore made a discovery on the way to his garage which may fuel speculation about the presence of cougars in Petrolia and Central Lambton.
The Petrolia resident was at his Crescent Park home Jan. 11 when he looked down. “I said, ‘Whoa! What’s that?’ It struck me because it was so big.”
That thing was a paw print which Poore matched on the internet with that of a cougar.
He took several pictures including one with a tape measure near by. Then Poore looked around his home to see where the animal might have gone.
“He came up out of the ravine, jumped onto a three-foot retaining wall, came up the walkway between the house and the garage and then to the front yard.
Poore suspects the animal was tracking deer which regularly are seen in the ravine. “Cougars eat deer and there are lots of deer around here.”
While he didn’t see the cougar with his eyes, he believes the paw prints are pretty convincing proof of a cougar’s presence. “All I know is I know what I saw.”
Poore isn’t alone in his belief the cats are roaming the area. At least six people believe they’ve seen a cougar this winter.
Phillip Henderson, 35, is an experienced outdoorsman who lives on Courtright Line. While deer hunting Dec. 6 he spotted an animal he’d never encountered before in the bush. His party was southwest of Petrolia between Rokeby Line and Shiloh Line, east of Fairweather Road, he said.
“It was about 40 yards away, black, and four to five feet long, crawling in front of a log. I seen it for about a minute and it took off,” he said.
Henderson said he ruled out possible animals one by one. Noting a long, rope-like tail he has absolutely no doubt he saw a cougar that day.
“I know what a cat looks like,” he said.
Another veteran hunter, who asked for anonymity, said the sightings are concentrated in central Lambton and of two distinct animals – one black and one tan-beige.
“Mature adults are seeing them, most of them outdoorsmen,” he said. “(Cougars) can’t continue to hide on us in the winter.”
“One of these times we’re going to come across their tracks and our coyote dogs are going to tree it. It’s as simple as that. And then we’re going to get pictures of one up in a tree.”
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are Canada’s largest and most powerful wildcat. Males can reach two metres and weigh over 60 kilograms.
The Ministry of Natural Resources says it’s highly unlikely the big cats are prowling local woodlots, but isn’t ruling out the possibility.
“We do know there are cougars in Ontario,” said spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski. “We just don’t know where they came from, and it’s extremely rare to see them.”
Ministry researchers have documented cougar tracks, droppings that tested positive for cougar DNA, and prey with distinctive signs of cougar kills, primarily in eastern and northwestern Ontario.
“It’s really critical if people have any kind of evidence they let us know as soon as possible,” Kowalski said. The ministry urges anyone with hair samples, scat, photos or other evidence to call 1-800-667-1940.
“I’m not saying it’s completely out of the question,” Kowalski said. “But we absolutely need some proof.”
Poore has yet to submit his photos to the ministry and he’s really not concerned about the possible presence of the animal in his neighbourhood. “Anything you read says cougars are way more afraid of us than we are of them,” he says.
“And they’re reclusive.”