SOUTHERN ALBERTA: A provincial spokesperson says recent cougar sightings within the town limits of Milk River may be unusual, but not surprising. RCMP put out a warning to residents this week after a reported cougar sighting within town limits Tuesday night as a precaution, but Alberta Fish and Wildlife says they did not see enough evidence to look into it further.
"If there's a persistent problem then definitely we will investigate. But a one-off sighting, especially if the public isn't in immediate danger and the animal isn't acting habituated, that's a lower priority," says ministry spokesperson Darcy Whiteside.
Milk River resident Connie Ainscough says she recognized the cougar outside her home Tuesday night because of its long, rope-like tail. "About 10:15 p.m., I happened to look out my living room window and there sitting on the sidewalk was this cougar beside the old garage. Then he just got up and walked across the street," says Ainscough. RCMP officers couldn't track down the animal themselves. But this report, combined with several other reported sightings outside the town earlier this season have them warning residents to keep their small pets inside and watch children closely.
Whiteside agrees. He says cougars, especially young ones, will often follow wildlife into urban areas where they can get "easy" food. If you clear your yard of "attractants" - like BBQ leftovers, fallen fruit, scraps and garbage - that could bring wildlife to your yard, you're less likely to see a cougar wander nearby.
But even with those best efforts, he says the occasional cougar sighting within city limits is to be expected in Alberta these days. "Our cougar population is healthy. It's within normal realms, but it's at a higher peak than a few years ago. With the green areas that are important in town and with acreages, there is a higher chance of cougars being spotted than say 15 or 20 years ago," says Whiteside of the animals, which typically avoid human contact whenever possible. "When they start to not be afraid of humans any more is where we really start to be concerned."
He says if you do happen to spot a cougar, walk back the way you came. But if it's aggressive, you should act large, yell, throw sticks and keep pets and children close.