Eastern cougar sightings in the Atlantic Provinces are similar to the ghost stories and legends you hear while sitting around the campfire at night.
Or so I’m told. I wish I had known the rarity of the species yesterday afternoon while driving home from work.
As I’m cruising along the highway, towards Sable River, thinking about all the great purchases I had just made at Frenchy’s I saw a flash of movement off to the left.
I quickly tapped my brakes and slowed to a complete stop, expecting to see a deer dart out onto the road in front of me, but I was wrong.
My eyes widened and my mouth dropped as a very, very large cat sauntered sleekly about 20 ft in front of my car and across the highway to the other side.
My brain took a few seconds to register what it was I was actually seeing.
Flat and square face with short rounded ears, a long, thick body fraught with muscle under a coat that lay flat and bore the single colour of wheat. I eyeballed its height to be level with the hood of my Honda Fit.
I stared, with a fleeting thought to my camera in the seat beside me, before I could make any move it had reached the other side and was gone from sight.
I scurried into action and yanked on my wheel until I was on the gravel shoulder where the animal had disappeared, my eyes darting in every direction seeking a glimpse, a twitch of it’s long tail, anything that would show me where it had gone.
My eyes found nothing but the long wheat-like grass spread over the ground and retreating into trees.
I yelled out to my self, alone in the vehicle “Oh-my-god-a-mountain-lion.”
I didn’t know the name for what I had seen and figured it to be a bobcat until the next day when I described it to my editor.
He told me it sounded like a cougar but they were only a myth in Nova Scotia, a ghost.
He then showed me various pictures of large cats and I knew when I saw the pictures of the cougar that it was the animal I had seen.
I called the Department of Natural Resources in Shelburne and spoke to Forestry Technician Amy Marsters. “We have no data to prove they exist but no data to prove they don’t exist,” she explained.
She said that there are usually about 100 reports a year for cougar sightings and only one for Shelburne County.
Marsters said last month there was a cougar reported to be seen somewhere near Thomas Raddall Park.
Many people report the sighting long after the fact, more as an afterthought or mention rather than a report, said Marsters. “Most people think they will be laughed at when they call,” she said.
Although the Department of Natural Resources claim the cougar to be an indeterminate species they have given the animal full protection under the law. “Just in case,” said wildlife biologist for the Department of Natural Resources John Mills.
He explained that being a scientist he only deals in facts but admits there are too many observations to discredit the idea they might exist here.
There had only been one time where what thought to be solid physical evidence was found in a feces containing what biologist’s believed to be the hair of a cougar.
Years later with the development of genetic fingerprinting they found the hair had belonged to a bobcat and not a cougar after all.
Since my sighting in broad daylight at close range I believe there are cougars here, or at least one in Shelburne County, in fact I am certain of it.
But until solid physical evidence is produced to prove their existence, the Eastern Cougar in Atlantic Canada will remain nothing more than a ghost.