Ontario residents have been reporting cougar sightings for decades, but on Saturday a small group from Thunder Bay confirmed the cats’ presence in the province when they stumbled upon a carcass.
According to a report by CBC News, Mandi Weist, her boyfriend, and some buddies stopped to see if everyone was okay when they spotted a van pulled over by a sand pit near Boreal Road, northwest of Thunder Bay. The people in the van told Weist and her friends that they pulled over to take a look at the cougar, which was partially frozen to a snowbank nearby.
Weist told reporters that they were completely taken aback by the sight.
“Honestly, we had driven by this spot before and had seen something laying there. We just figured it was a deer based on the colour,” she said. Although the front half of the cougar was well preserved, because it had been frozen to the snow, the back half of the animal had started to decompose.
The group knew the cat was a rare find, so they loaded it onto the top of their vehicle and contacted Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, which lists cougars as an endangered species in the province.
“Cougars are most likely believed to live in Northern Ontario because of the remoteness of the habitat. However, there have been many reports from the southern part of the province,” the Ministry’s site says.
A conservation officer with the Ministry told Weist and her friends that they couldn’t keep the animal, since it’s illegal to possess a cougar from Ontario. Instead, it will be mounted and displayed for educational purposes.
“[The Ministry] said it was the very first confirmed [cougar] carcass in Ontario,” Weist told reporters.
The cougar was later brought to local taxidermist Dan Cavicchiolo, who said it was in pretty rough shape, only weighing around 80 pounds. He also said that the cougar appeared to have died of natural causes, and because he was forced to remove more than 50 quills from its nose and shoulder, he suspects the animal was desperate for food.
He told CBC that he’s heard lots of stories from the fisherman and hunters he deals with, but he’s never seen a cougar himself.
“I have to admit, I’ve always been a little skeptical.”