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Cougar approaches dog walker in Banff

A public warning issued by Parks Canada on Monday (Jan. 11) stated that a cougar “displayed aggressive behaviour after approaching a dog walker at a close distance.”
A cougar is seen on a trail camera. RMO FILE PHOTO

BANFF – A town-wide warning is in place due to an increase in cougar activity in and around the Banff townsite, including in residential neighbourhoods.

While a spokesperson from Parks Canada has not been made available to the Outlook, yet, a public warning by the federal agency stated that a cougar “displayed aggressive behaviour after approaching a dog walker at a close distance.”

“This (warning) is because of several recent cougar observations and one non-contact aggressive encounter,” stated the warning notice.

In addition, Parks Canada wildlife resource conservation officers removed a deer that had been stashed by a cougar near the 100 block of Muskrat Street on the weekend.

And an out-of-town couple came across a cougar at close range on a trail just off Tunnel Mountain Road on Saturday (Jan. 9), while a big cat was reported walking past a porch in a residential neighbourhood.

Banff resident Kerry James warned residents of a cougar in town on Saturday.

“Just saw a cougar pass by my patio at Whiskey Creek,” said James on Facebook.

“Please be careful out there. [It’s] heading away from the [train] tracks towards Cougar Street.”

John Marriott, a wildlife photographer, has been doing extensive tracking of cougars in the Bow Valley this month as part of a cougar conservation project he’s involved in.

He has been backtracking cougars on Tunnel Mountain this past week, where he saw five or six different sets in recent days, though some were likely the same animal.

Marriott spoke to the tourists who came across the cougar on the trail off Tunnel Mountain, which he confirmed was definitely a wild cat when they showed him a photo.

“They were walking along the trail and there was a cougar on the side of the trail staring at something in the bush,” he said.

“They said, ‘we kind of walked right by it before we noticed it’ and then said ‘all of a sudden there’s a cougar right there’ and backed away.”

Based on the tracks he has seen, Marriott said he believes there is a mother and kitten in the mix.

He said he also backtracked a smaller cougar, based on the size of the prints, from Fenlands to the Bow Valley Parkway.

“It might have been a disperser; it was small tracks and meandering around all over the place checking things out,” he said.

Marriott said cougars are using ski trails in the Tunnel Mountain campground and bike trails. The same goes for Canmore, he said, where he has tracked cougars on the Montane and near the Alpine Club of Canada clubhouse.

“One thing I find pretty amazing is how much the cats use our trails – they’re on ski trails and fat bike trails,” he said.

“They’re all around, using all these trails. The one on the Alpine Club was right on a trail for three kilometres,” he said.

“Just be really careful and keep dogs on leash. You don’t want to give cougars something to want to chase, that extra prey to think they should be going after.”

The conservation project, which Marriott is doing through his non-profit Exposed Wildlife Conservancy and other non-profits in British Columbia, aims to raise awareness about cougars.

“I want to raise awareness and appreciation of this magnificent, beautiful animal that has the power to kill us, has the power to injure us, to injure out pets, and live so close to us – closer than grizzlies, closer than wolves – and yet chooses to very rarely interact with us,” he said.

“This is an apex predator that coexists with us and we don’t even know it’s coexisting with us. I find that so fascinating. I think it’s very easy to find people who love wolves, who love grizzly bears, but there’s so few people who know anything about cats.”

Despite living in such close proximity to cougars, attacks on people are rare. Alberta’s only fatal cougar attack was in January 2001 when Frances Frost was killed while cross-country skiing near Lake Minnewanka.

A spokesperson for Parks Canada was not immediately available for comment.

To avoid an encounter with a cougar, or other dangerous wildlife, you should be prepared to:

  • Travel in groups and keep everyone together.
  • Be especially cautious when travelling during dawn and dusk, when wildlife is most active.
  • Travel slowly if you are cycling or jogging, and do not wear ear buds. 
  • Make noise to alert a cougar or other potentially dangerous wildlife to your presence.
  • Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location and know how to use it.
  • Keep your dog on a leash at all times and walk your dog during daylight hours if possible.
  • Leave the area if you see or smell a dead animal.
  • Never approach, entice or feed wildlife.

If you see a cougar:

  • Do not approach the animal. 
  • Face the cougar, and retreat slowly – do not run or play dead. 
  • Try to appear bigger by holding your arms or an object above your head. 
  • Immediately pick up small children. 
  • Be aggressive. Shout, wave a stick or throw rocks to deter an attack.

Report your sighting, immediately, to Banff 24/7 Emergency Dispatch at 403-762-1470.