By Connor Lynch and James Pascual
COCHRANE, ALBERTA — There could be more than 500 cougars in Ontario but probably much farther north. But just one cougar roaming away from home can do a lot of damage. Alberta sheep farmer Barry Richards found that out after he went to bed around midnight on Jan. 21, thinking he’d chased off the cougar he caught staring into his window.
He awoke the next morning to a slaughtered flock.
According to reporting by the Calgary Herald, a near-starving male cougar killed 38 of Richards’ sheep in one bloody night at his farm west of Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Richards described the scene as like “a battle scene from a movie.” He lost 20 ewes, 16 lambs, and two 300 lb. rams. One lamb, born during the frenzy, survived, as did another just over a week old, along with 10 sheep.
Richards and a group of locals managed to track down the cougar, which they didn’t shoot, as they didn’t have a licence. Fish and Wildlife officers ended up killing the animal, with one officer stating that the emaciated animal likely would’ve died of starvation anyway. It did not appear to have fed much on the sheep it had killed.
The officer added that cougars that target livestock are typically euthanized, since they are unlikely to stop attacking livestock.
Though they were once believed to be extinct in Ontario, a 2012 estimate by the Ontario Puma Foundation suggested Ontario might have as many as 550 cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions, following a study drawing on 500 pieces of evidence, including paw prints, scat and hair. According to OMAFRA, in 2016-2017, cougars in Simcoe County killed one cow and four sheep on farms.
There are infrequent cougar sightings in Ontario. The last wild cougar captured in Ontario was near Cobourg, east of Oshawa, in 2014. Ministry of Natural Resources officers used a whole chicken and steak as bait after the cougar was lurking in bushes and backyards for almost a week. The last previously confirmed wild cougar sighting in Ontario was in 1884.