No confirmation, but wildlife officials monitoring area of big cat sightings

Gary Kean
Published on June 21, 2014

Their presence anywhere in Eastern Canada is still a matter of debate, but talk persists there may be cougar on the island of Newfoundland.

Last week, as reported in The Western Star, Lorenzo Reid came forward to say he was absolutely convinced he saw one in the woods behind his day care business on O’Connell Drive late in the evening of June12.

Earlier this week, there was talk of another sighting near the Lundrigan Drive area on the outskirts of Corner Brook, just a few kilometres from Reid’s day care.

With no definitive photos or video or, let alone better evidence such as a carcass, fur sample or scat, it’s impossible to confirm if there are such big cats on the island of Newfoundland.

The Department of Natural Resources told The Western Star it received three calls regarding these sightings in the past week or so. Only one of them — the one they got from Reid, mentioned the caller had seen a cougar.

The department would not grant an interview, but did say one of the three calls was from a man from the United States who reported seeing “a large cat.”

Sources have told The Western Star that, subsequent to Reid’s alleged sighting, an American couple camping in the Lundrigan Drive area claimed to have seen a cougar. The Star has been attempting all week to locate these people, who were apparently just passing through the Corner Brook area, but to no avail.

Terriann Hamlyn of Corner Brook said she spoke with the man at around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. She told The Western Star that she was out walking her dog on Lundrigan Drive when the man came up to her and told her he had just seen what he called “a mountain lion” on a ridge in the area nearby.

“He came up to me and said ‘I have got to tell somebody what I just saw,’” said Hamlyn.

When she told the man about the story of Reid’s sighting five days before, Hamlyn said the man knew nothing about that reported sighting. She said the man knew the difference between a cougar and a lynx, the smaller wild cat known to live in Newfoundland.

“If I were to bet money on whether this man was telling the truth or not, I would believe him,” said Hamlyn of her encounter. “Why would someone just passing through Corner Brook randomly come up to me and tell me this?”

Hamlyn said she notified wildlife officials Wednesday morning, which would account for the third call the Department of Natural Resources said it received in the last week.

The department obviously cannot confirm the presence of a cougar without more evidence, but did say it is monitoring the area in question as a follow-up from the calls received.

These are not the first instances of people reporting they have seen a cougar. There have been numerous reported sightings from virtually every part of the island for years, but none have led any sort of confirmation.

In the March 1994 edition of The Osprey, the quarterly magazine published by Nature Newfoundland and Labrador (formerly, the Newfoundland Natural History Society), there was an anecodote of two men claiming to have hauled what was believed to be a cougar off the road after it had been struck and killed by a car in Port Rexton in 1986.

That animal, according to the story, had disappeared when the men returned later to take a closer look. The article notes how cougars have been known to drag away the remains of one of their own.

The same article references another unconfirmed story of three American hunters having released three cougars in the Main River area in the early 1960s so they could hunt them down. As that story goes, a storm came up and the hunters had to abandon their expedition, leaving the animals behind.

More recently, the stories of sightings by everyday Newfoundlanders have kept cropping up from time to time. There have been reports — none of them supported by anything more than an eyewitness account — of sightings in western, central and eastern Newfoundland and on the Northern Peninsula.

Among the latest reported sightings were one in Springdale in the fall of 2008, one in Port au Choix in January 2009, one near the rail bed in Badger in August 2012 and one on the Trans-Canada Highway near J.T. Cheeseman Park in southwestern Newfoundland in June 2013.

While some people have claimed to have seen a black cat, most have reported a large tan or beige cat, the colour of a typical cougar. Nearly all the stories, though, consistently describe the animals seen as being between six to nine feet long from nose to tail and as having distinctively long tails.

The long tails and overall size contrast with the lynx found in Newfoundland, which is much smaller than an adult cougar and has a stubbier tail. Many of those claiming to have seen a cougar say they know the difference between a cougar and a lynx.

According to Environment Canada, the cougar was once present throughout North America, but was hunted heavily because its fur was valuable and people feared for their livestock being preyed upon by the big cats. Unconfirmed sightings have also been reported throughout Maritime Canada and in Quebec, but the state of the population in Eastern Canada — if there are any left in the region at all — is uncertain. In some cases, it has been shown that what some people had been convinced were cougars have actually proven to be lynx, dogs or other animals.

According to the website for Hinterland Who’s Who, administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service, hair samples retrieved in 2000 from a car that had supposedly collided with a cougar in Quebec and DNA analysis of hair samples collected in 2003 from posts treated with cougar urine in New Brunswick have provided evidence of the cougar’s existence in these areas.

Back to the last person to go public with a claim of having seen a cougar in Newfoundland, Reid said he remains confident he saw a “huge” cat in Corner Brook last week. He said the fact someone who operates a day care for small children would go public with something like this shows his conviction.

“People are kind of chuckling at me and laughing, but I don’t think people are taking me serious,” said Reid, noting wildlife officials notified him that they had received additional reports since his own. “It’s not like I saw something far off. I saw a cougar.”