PORT HARDY—A cougar was shot and killed near a Port Hardy neighbourhood Tuesday afternoon, but not before grabbing its last meal in a daylight dash down a residential street.
The big cat was put down by local Conservation Officer Tanner Beck following a search that included Port Hardy RCMP, a houndsman and a pair of tracking hounds.
In a necropsy by Beck, the cougar was found to have pieces of a house cat in its stomach.
The officers were responding to a 9-1-1 call from a pair of workmen who were startled by the cougar’s appearance at about 1:45 p.m., while they performed concrete work on an entryway to a home on Scott Street near the corner of Highland Drive.
“I just saw something flash out of the corner of my eye and I thought, ‘That’s too big a tail to be a dog,’” said Richard Sears.
Sears and co-worker Ian Henderson walked carefully around their work van and were shocked to find themselves in the front row of a nature documentary.
“This cat was booting it past here, and the cougar was right behind it,” said Henderson.
The two watched the cats disappear behind a nearby hedge, and within moments saw the cougar reappear with the smaller cat in its jaws and lope casually toward the driveway where they stood.
That prompted the men to clamber into their van and place the 9-1-1 call while the cougar took its prey through a small side yard and leaped a short, chain-link fence to reach the green belt behind the house.
“I wasn’t afraid for myself,” said Sears.
“I was!” Henderson countered.
“I was mainly worried about the kids that are going to be getting out of school here,” Sears finished.
Schools, which had an early dismissal at 2 p.m. for teacher conferences, were notified of the cougar sighting and an after-school practice at Eagle View Elementary School was cancelled.
RCMP officers initially responded shortly before 2 p.m. and followed the cat on foot into the green belt that runs between the homes and the adjacent trailer park. They saw low branches rustling as the cougar moved away through the underbrush, but did not get a clear look at the animal itself.
Beck arrived closer to 3 p.m., followed shortly by the cougar-tracking dogs. The search was resumed until the dogs found and treed the cat in the greenbelt near the south end of Scott Street.
“With this case, because the cougar has started associating a residential area with a food source, it was not a candidate for relocation,” Beck said of the decision to euthanize the animal.
Beck described the cougar as an “average sized” female, showing no obvious injuries or signs of illness or malnutrition. Due to the proximity, short time elapsed and stomach contents, Beck said there was no reason to believe it was not the same cougar spotted in the neighbourhood.
Beck cautioned residents that house cats allowed to wander free run the risk of becoming a food source for the area’s wild predators, as do stray cats allowed to run wild and breed.
All the excitement and traffic related to the search for the cougar did cut short Sears and Henderson’s job on Scott. After giving statements to the RCMP, who were still awaiting Beck’s arrival, the two workmen loaded their tools in their van to move on to another, quieter work site.
“This has been the most exciting day I’ve had at work for a while,” said Sears.