It's not every day a Mountie on patrol gets to deal with a wild cougar in downtown Banff.
Constable Julien Cloutier-Jodoin had just pulled over a driver in the early hours of Tuesday (Jan. 9) on Marten Street near the Banff IGA when he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye, only to see a cougar on the sidewalk just two metres away.
"I did a little step back and then I realized it was a cougar," said Cloutier-Jodoin, who came to Banff last April on his first posting with the RCMP.
"At the time he was looking in my eyes kind of. I flashed my flashlight and thought about if it was going to jump on me."
But the cougar only stuck around for about 10 to 15 seconds.
"The cougar turned around, turned left and he was going towards Banff Avenue on Elk Street," said Cloutier-Jodoin.
The police officer followed the wild cat on Banff Avenue.
"The cougar went close enough to the Ptarmigan Hotel door sensor to activate the automatic door," said Cloutier-Jodoin, adding it prompted a security officer to come out to see what was going on.
"By the time the officer was outside, the cougar went in between the Ptarmigan and Moose Hotel and went back on Marten Street."
Hailing from Quebec, Cloutier-Jodoin said he was expecting to see predators like bears, wolves and maybe cougars in Banff National Park.
"It's a national park and they roam around. But the thing is when I start to say that to the other members, they say, 'No, some people may never see one and definitely not in town,' " said Cloutier-Jodoin.
"It was more like after that, I realized this was something special."
Parks Canada received the report from the RCMP about 3 a.m. and quickly sent out wildlife staff to track the animal.
Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park, said Parks was able to quickly pick up the cougar's tracks.
"It had wondered through four of five blocks in town and was near the IGA," he said. "That was the furthest extent into town and most was on the periphery."
Wildlife staff tracked the cougar, losing tracks at times, but were able to determine it quickly moved back into the wildlife corridor north of Banff.
Parks continued to monitor the area.
"We don't like to see wildlife in town, and certainly not predators. Staff are out monitoring to make sure this isn't repetitive in this particular animal," said Hunt.
"It's definitely a reminder for everyone again to be WildSmart at all times, keep their heads up and stay alert, especially after dark."
Hunt said backtracking work by staff shows the cougar doesn't appear to have encountered any unnatural food attractants, such as garage, recycling, pets or pet food.
"The really good news is - whether the cougar followed in a deer or was disoriented - it didn't bump into attractants," he said.
"Hats off to Banff residents that the town was a nice, clean, safe environment and the cougar was able to move through without getting any (food) rewards."
The Town of Banff is surrounded by steep and rocky terrain, leaving only narrow strips of habitat that act as corridors for wildlife to travel and move through the Bow Valley.
Cougars use wildlife corridors around Banff year-round, but it's not known why the animal came into town.
"It's maybe a young animal that hasn't quite figured out how to get around the landscape," said Hunt.
Backtracking shows this cougar came from the wildlife corridor near the Fenlands, then crossed the train tracks into town before heading back to the railway line and continuing east.
"It popped into one more green patch west of the Whiskey Creek neighbourhood," said Hunt.
"We lost it near Whiskey Creek near the Y in the railway."
Staff were able to pick up a set of cougar tracks the following day and, though it might be the same cougar, Parks can't say for sure.
The cougar was heading west through the Whiskey Creek area, using the wildlife corridor between the industrial compound and TransCanada Trail.
"We were happy to see that," said Hunt. "They lost that track at Compound Road, heading westward."
In addition, another set of cougar tracks that were likely made at least two or three days earlier than the Jan. 9 cougar sighting were found on Tunnel Mountain Road east of the campground.
The animal had come through the campground, down off the benchlands, across Banff Avenue and through the Indian Grounds before heading into the woods between Compound Road and the Husky Oil site at the north end of Banff Avenue.
"The cougar got dead-ended between the compound and railway and the town and headed back toward the area around Compound Road," said Hunt.
Previous research has shown cougars travel in the Fenlands and west of the industrial compound, the entire Cascade corridor and on Tunnel Mountain.
"They don't travel as much on the south side of town as they do on the north side, but they still do," said Hunt.
Parks Canada reminds residents and visitors to keep pets on leash at all times, carry and know how to use bear spray and immediately report all carnivore sightings - and any elk sightings in town boundaries - to Banff dispatch at 403-762-1470.
About the Author: Rocky Mountain Outlook
The Rocky Mountain Outlook is Bow Valley's No. 1 source for local news and events.