Are there more cougars, or are we all just seeing things?

Is 2012 the Year of the Cougar? If you turned on the news, picked up a paper, or searched the Internet this summer, you probably saw reports of cougar sightings in Ontario (the cats, I mean, not The Real Housewives of Orange County). Experts have known for some time that the wild felines are back in action (the species was at one point nearly hunted to extinction; see Cottage Life‘s June 2011 article about their return), but actual hard proof of their presence here is tough to come by. And according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, nearly 100 per cent of sightings are false, and most media reports are in fact based on unconfirmed evidence. Apparently, of all the tracks submitted to the MNR for confirmation this year, absolutely none were from cougars.

So what’s with all the sightings and reports? Are people correctly identifying escaped captive cougars? Are they just mistakenly identifying something else—a bobcat, a lynx, a golden retriever, a pony, a huge beige rock? As someone who has a wild imagination and routinely sees things that aren’t really there, I get that. In the same six month period, I swore I saw an alien riding a bicycle (actually a guy dressed in grey, with bug-eye sunglasses, riding a bicycle); a polar bear in the park (actually a big white dog); and the Grim Reaper, sitting on the subway (actually a girl dressed in a long black cloak, with the hood up, obscuring her face—someone needs to tell her to rethink her choice in outerwear). These sightings were in broad daylight, not late at night on some winding cottage road.

But all that said, some cougar sightings are accurate, and true evidence—or an actual cougar encounter, which the MNR says is extremely rare—is no joke. So check out the Ministry’s info on how to report possible cougar data, or what to do if you were to ever come face to face with one.

Unfortunately, the MNR doesn’t post any info on what to do if you spot an alien riding a bicycle. So I guess you’re on your own with that one.