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June 22, 2010

Cougars in northern Ontario

CANADA - Researchers have confirmed there are cougars living in northern Ontario. Canada's Ministry of Natural Resources conducted a 4-year study into existence of the shy and reclusive large cats and have compiled 30+ pieces of evidence confirming they are prowling the northern woods.

The evidence includes tracks, DNA samples, clumps of fur and feces which have been collected over the past 4 years.

Since 2002 there have been almost 2,000 cougar sightings in Ontario, but none of them have been photographed. Cougars in Ontario were believed to have gone extinct around 1890 due to over hunting. The last cougar was shot in 1884 near Creemore, just south of Collingwood and only a few hundred km from Toronto.

Dozens of automated cameras triggered by motion/heat have been set up in places (Kenora, Lindsay and Sault Ste. Marie) where confirmed sightings have occurred, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

Cougars, aka pumas and mountain lions, can travel up to 50 kilometres a night, within a territory ranging up to 1,000 square kilometers.

There is speculation these cougars may have migrated or been imported from British Columbia. Sightings however date back decades so researchers say its likely a native population of cougars.

Stuart Kenn, president of Ontario Puma Foundation, estimates there are 550 cougars in Ontario. He's been tracking cougars for 30 years. He suggests there is a “cougar corridor” bordered by Ottawa, Peterborough and Owen Sound to the south and North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

“There’s never been a confirmed attack on a human by a cougar. It’s very, very rare,” says Stuart Kenn. As large cats go cougars are very shy and avoid humans as much as they can. Cougars tend to stick to places where there are lots of hiding places and with their keen hearing its rare for people to spot them.

By the time you reach for your camera they're likely to be sprinting into the woods.

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